The Supreme Court on Wednesday put in abeyance section 124a of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 which deals with the offence of sedition. The top court said it would be inappropriate to use the provision of this law until such time the re-examination process of this law is over.
"We hope and expect that the Centre and state governments will refrain from registering any FIR (with sedition), continuing investigations, or taking coercive steps under 124A IPC while it is under reconsideration," the top court said.
The Supreme Court said:
1. If any fresh case is registered appropriate parties are at liberty to approach courts for appropriate relief and courts are requested to examine the relief sought to take into account the order passed by this court.
2. All pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under IPC Section124A be kept in abeyance. Adjudication with respect to other sections may proceed with no prejudice caused to the accused.
3. In addition, Centre will issue directives proposed and placed before us to States/UTs to prevent misuse of sec 124A.
The directions issued by the bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana came after hearing arguments in detail. The top court pointed out that it was clear the Centre agreed on the point that the rigours of the sedition law is not in tune with the current situation and that it was intended for the time when the country was under colonial law. "The Court has to balance the rights of civil liberty and sovereignty of the state. This is a difficult exercise. The petitioner says this law dates back to the colonial era, the Attorney General [KK Venugopal] also cited how 124a IPC was being misused," CJI Ramana said dictating the order in open court.
The top court's direction came a day after the Centre told the Supreme Court that it was re-examining the laws on sedition.
In light of the new development, the top court had asked that if it were to suspend the hearing on pleas seeking to scrap sedition and give it the time it wanted to re-examine the laws on sedition, then how would the Centre deal with pending cases, and future cases if any.
Cannot stay laws on sedition: Centre to SC
The Centre told the Supreme Court that the government could not stay sedition laws since that would not be a "correct approach" and it would be unable to anticipate the "gravity" of offences pan-India. Sedition laws are cognizable offence that was upheld by the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said.
Instead, the government proposed a set of draft guidelines modelled along the lines of those laid out in the Vinod Dua judgment for the registration of FIRs in cases pertaining to sedition. "We are proposing directions keeping in mind that we cannot prevent a cognizable offence from being registered," Mehta said.
Mehta said that if one "scrupulously" followed guidelines in the Supreme Court's 2021 Vinod Dua judgement then an FIR under 124A under the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 cannot be registered unless a police officer signs off on the charge with reasons in writing. This would amount to the introduction of a layer of scrutiny at the pre-FIR stage.
"Once there is cognisable offence and it is held valid by constitution bench then staying the effect may not be the correct course of action. Therefore, we have said there has to be a responsible officer for scrutiny, and his satisfaction (allowing the registration of FIR with sedition charges) is subject to judicial review," Mehta added.
As far as pending cases, Mehta said we don't know the gravity of the offences in each case. There may be money laundering or a terror charge. Ultimately, the pending cases are before the judicial forum, and we need to trust the courts," the solicitor general said. "This can be considered at the stage of bail. Competent courts can decide cases pertaining to section 124a (sedition law) expeditiously on merits," he added.
Any other order would amount to staying it (sedition laws), Mehta added.