The sedition law should not be struck down but guidelines are needed to prevent its misuse, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Thursday, reported ANI.
“We need guidelines on this section – what is permissible and what is impermissible and what can come under sedition,” Attorney General KK Venugopal told the court, according to Bar and Bench. “See what is happening in this country. Yesterday sedition was charged against people who recited Hanuma Chalisa.”
Venugopal made the statement in reference to the sedition case filed against Independent MP Navneet Rana and her husband MLA Ravi Rana by the Maharashtra government. The couple was arrested on April 23 for threatening to recite Hindu hymn Hanuman Chalisa in front of Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s home. Both of them were granted bail on Wednesday.
The Supreme Court is hearing two petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sedition. The law 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.
At the April 27 hearing, the court had asked the central government to clarify its stand on the law by April 30, according to The Hindu. However, the government missed the deadline and requested an extension of 24 hours to file the affidavit on May 2.
On Wednesday, the government again filed an application seeking another extension of up to seven days to file its response.
At Thursday’s hearing, the Centre told the court that while the draft of the affidavit is ready, it was awaiting confirmation from the competent authority, Live Law reported.
“For a matter of importance like this, would it be fair if the stand of central government is not on record,” Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta said, according to Bar and Bench. “Consultation with competent authority is needed. We are only seeking a week.”
A bench led by Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli allowed the Centre to file the affidavit by May 9 and posted the matter for hearing on May 10 at 2 pm.
The court also said that it will first decide whether a larger bench was needed to look into the case as the petitioners have also challenged the Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar verdict, which was delivered by a five-judge bench.
In the 1962 verdict, the Supreme Court had held that criticism of public measures or comments on government action falls under the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression as long as the comments do not “incite people to violence against the government established by law” or are made “with the intention of creating public disorder”.
“In every writ petition there is a prayer to strike down Kedarnath and strike down 124A [Sedition],” Justice Surya Kant said, according to Bar and Bench. “You have to pursue us that even after 5-judge bench in Kedar Nath judgement, we [3-judge bench] can proceed to hear this.”
To this, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing on behalf of the petitioners, submitted that referring the case to a larger bench may not be necessary.
“Section 124A can be struck down after observing the sea change in law as well,” Sibal said. “Kedarnath case confuses between state and government. [Section] 124 concerns with state and Article 19 [freedom of speech and expression] concerns with the government.”
The petitions have been filed by a former Army officer, Major General (Retired) SG Vombatkere, and the Editors Guild of India.