The situation from Kashmir to Kerala and Punjab to the northeast makes it necessary to retain the sedition law to safeguard the integrity of India, Law Commission chairperson Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi said on Tuesday.

Last month, the law panel had recommended retaining Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code dealing with sedition. The development nearly a year after the Supreme Court stayed the operation of the sedition law and requested state governments and the Centre to not file any new cases under the provision till it is re-examined.

Section 124A 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 law commission, in a 88-page report to the government, recommended adding the words “tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder” to Section 124A. It clarified that this change would allow prosecution for inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder rather than for actual violence or imminent threat to violence.

On Tuesday, Justice Awasthi told PTI that special laws such as the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Security Act operate in different fields and do not cover the offence of sedition. Therefore, he justified the move to back the sedition law.

In fact, the law panel had also recommended that the jail term under the law should be increased from three years to seven years. It had said the enhanced jail term would allow the courts greater room to award punishment for a case of sedition in accordance with the scale and gravity of the act committed.

“We have found that there is a big gap in the punishment provision as the punishment of up to three years imprisonment or a punishment of life imprisonment with or without fine may be given,” Justice Awasthi told PTI on Tuesday.

The panel’s proposal had caused an uproar with several Opposition leaders accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party of trying to stifle dissent ahead of the Lok Sabha elections next year.

But Justice Awasthi dismissed the concerns, saying that the commission has recommended certain procedural safeguards to minimise the abuse of the sedition law. He added that a preliminary investigation will be conducted by a police officer of the rank of inspector or above.

The inquiry will be done within seven days from the occurrence of the incident and the preliminary report will be submitted to the competent government authority for permission for lodging of a first information report in the matter, Justice Awasthi said.

“On the basis of the preliminary report, if the competent government authority finds any cogent evidence with regard to commissioning of the offence of sedition, it may grant permission,” he said. “It is only after the grant of permission that the FIR under Section 124A of the IPC shall be lodged.”

The former chief justice of Karnataka High Court also said that the sedition law being a colonial legacy is not a valid ground for its repeal. “The realities differ in every jurisdiction,” he said. “Even countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, Ireland, Spain, Norway and Malaysia have the law on sedition in their country in one form or the other.”

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  1. Law panel’s support for sedition statute echoes colonial past instead of scripting democratic future
  2. Why experts are sounding a cautionary note about the Supreme Court’s sedition order