The Supreme Court on Thursday expressed concern over the misuse of the sedition law observing that it posed a threat to the functioning of democracy. Authorities have enormous potential to misuse it, the top court observed while hearing a plea challenging the constitutional validity of sedition.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said the sedition law was used by the Britishers against freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Lokmanya Tilak. "After 75 years, do we still need this law?," CJI Ramana asked Attorney General KK Venugopal, who was representing the Centre.
A bench that also comprised Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy issued notice on a plea filed by retired army official SG Vombatkere who challenged the constitutional validity of section 124A, which penalises sedition. A similar plea has been filed by the Editors Guild of India.
"It's the same issue and a challenge on the statutory provision, and we demanded certain guidelines. We said how 124A, apart from being unconstitutional, is being grossly misused," senior advocate Shyam Divan said representing the guild.
On May 1, another bench of the Supreme Court led by Justice UU Lalit had issued notice on pleas challenging sedition. Earlier this week, the bench had fixed July 27 to hear all pleas before it on this matter. On May 31, Justice DY Chandrachud had observed that it was time to "define the limits of sedition" since it had no place in a modern democracy as it barred Andhra Pradesh from taking coercive action against two Telugu channels for their reportage of the COVID-19 pandemic in the State.
Misuse of sedition threatens the functioning of democracy
During arguments on Thursday, CJI Ramana pointed out that historically the success rate of sedition was very low. "There is enormous power to misuse the law," CJI Ramana said. "the alarming rate of misuse can be compared to giving a carpenter a saw to cut wood and instead he cuts the forest," he added.
"Authorities, like section 66A (of the Information and Technology Act, 2000) misuse this (sedition)," CJI Ramana added. The concern is over the use/misuse of section 124A and no accountability of the Executive, the top judge said.
"We will definitely look into this... The situation on the ground is grave...If some party doesn't want to hear the voice of another party, they may use this type of law and implicate other people. It's a serious question for individuals and parties. It also poses a serious threat to the functioning of democracy," the court said.
"This is like if a police officer wants to fix anybody in a village for something, he can use Section 124A...people holding hands, etc. The minute you see section 124 in the FIR, people get scared," the court added.
The apex court then lamented why the law on sedition was left out when the BJP government was taking a re-look at all stale laws.
Attorney General KK Venugopal said there was no need to strike down the law completely. Rather, a structure could be given to the law and make it limited, so that it could be invoked for its real purpose.