A Bench headed by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana asked why the law can’t be repealed.
“Your government has repealed many stale laws, I do not know why the government is not looking into repealing Section 124A (which deals with the offence of sedition) of the IPC?” CJI Ramana asked Attorney General KK Venugopal.
The Bench further asked, “It is a colonial law. It was meant to suppress the freedom movement and the same law was used by the British against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Is this law still required after 75 years of independence?”
The Chief Justice said that the apex court would look into the plea challenging the Constitutional validity of Section 124A.
“The situation on the ground is grave. If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used. It is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties,” the top court observed.
“The use of the sedition law is like giving a saw to a carpenter to cut a piece of wood, and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself,” the court said, adding that it was concerned about the misuse of such laws.
Taking the example of Section 66A, which was struck down by the court but people were arrested, the Bench said, “There is misuse of these provisions, but there is no accountability.”
Attorney General representing the Central government told the Bench that Section 124A need not be struck down and only guidelines needed to be set out so that section meets its legal purpose.
The top court further told Attorney General that the conviction rate under Section 124A is very low.
“Take the 66A IT Act, thousands of cases were registered even after being struck down. If any police wants to fix somebody, it can invoke Section 124A also. Everybody is a little scared when this section is invoked. These are all issues that need to be looked into. Our concern is the misuse of the law and no accountability of the executive,” said the Chief Justice.
Meanwhile, the Bench also issued notice to the Centre on the plea filed by a former army officer challenging the Constitutional validity of the sedition law. It also tagged this plea along with other similar pending pleas.
The Bench observed that the petitioner in this case, had sacrificed his whole life for the country in service and it cannot be said that he is a motivated petition.
The plea, filed by retired Major-General SG Vombatkere challenged the Constitutional validity of the sedition law on the ground that it causes a ‘chilling effect’ on speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.
He submitted that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the offence of sedition, is wholly unconstitutional and should be ‘unequivocally and unambiguously struck down’.
Earlier, a different Bench of the top court had sought a response from the Centre on a plea challenging the Constitutional validity of sedition law, filed by two journalists — Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla — working in Manipur and Chhattisgarh respectively.