SC: Why keep colonial sedition law?

The Supreme Court on Thursday asked for the Centre’s views on whether the British-era sedition provision Section 124A in the Indian Penal Code, used to punish freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak to quell dissent and protest, should be retained even when there is continued evidence of its misuse by police without any accountability right till current times.

Importantly, the Centre appeared to be on the same page with the SC when attorney general K K Venugopal said the court can lay down guidelines restricting the use of Section 124A in addition to the broad parameters provided by the court in a six-decade-old judgment in the Kedar Nath case as to what constituted “sedition”. Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “The court will find that most of its apprehensions are addressed when the Centre files its response to the PIL.”

A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy said it was of the opinion that the sedition law should be used only for protection of the nation, its security and institutions of importance in a democracy. However, the sedition law, enacted by the British to subjugate the people of India, had been grossly misused since Independence for the last 75 years, much in a similar way to quell dissent.

The bench said, “A saw in the hands of a carpenter is a tool to help him make beautiful furniture. If the carpenter turns his saw on the trees, then the forest gets decimated. This section (124A) gives enormous powers for misuse. It is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood for making furniture. If he uses it to cut the entire forest, imagine the devastating impact.” Justice Ramana recalled the SC’s March 2015 judgment in the Shreya Singhal case quashing the much-abused Section 66A of the Information Technology Act to arrest people who voiced their criticism against governments on social media platforms.

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