The Supreme Court ordered the Centre on Wednesday to file its reply on two petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law by April 30, Bar and Bench reported.
A bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana listed the matter for hearing on May 5 and clarified that the court will not allow any adjournments.
The petitions have been filed by a former Army officer, Major General (Retired) SG Vombatkere, and the Editors Guild of India.
The petitioners have challenged Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sedition. The provision states that whoever “brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India” can be held to have committed the offence of sedition.
The maximum punishment for the offence is life imprisonment, with or without a fine.
The court listed the matter for May 5 and told the Centre that no further adjournments will be granted. “Reply to that affidavit to be filed by Tuesday, list the matter for final disposal without any adjournment on May 5,” the order passed by the apex court said, according to Bar and Bench.
While hearing Vombatkere’s petition in July, Chief Justice NV Ramana had orally remarked that the sedition law belonged to the colonial era and questioned whether it was still necessary to use it after 75 years of Independence. He had noted that the law had been used by the British to silence freedom fighters like Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.
Attorney General KK Venugopal had argued that the law did not need to be struck down, and that guidelines could be issued to meet its “legal purpose”.
Vombatkere, in the petition, contended that the sedition law criminalises expression on the basis of vague definitions of “disaffection towards the government”, which is an unreasonable restriction on free speech, according to Bar and Bench.
He said the court needed to take into account the “march of the times and the development of the law” before dealing with Section 124A.
On similar lines, the Editors Guild has argued that the law violates the fundamental right to freedom of speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
In April, a three-judge Supreme Court bench of Justices UU Lalit, Indira Banerjee and KM Joseph had sought a response from the Centre on a plea filed by two journalists – Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha from Manipur and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla from Chhattisgarh – challenging the sedition law.
Former Union minister Arun Shourie and non-governmental organisation Common Cause have also filed petitions challenging the law.