Supreme Court Puts Sedition Law in Abeyance During Government 'Review'

"We hope and expect Centre and State Governments will refrain from registering any FIR, continuing investigation, or taking coercive steps under Section 124 A IPC when it is under reconsideration," the court said.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday (May 11) put the sedition law in abeyance, while the Union government reconsiders whether the colonial-era law should exist.

A special bench comprising Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli held that all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under Section 124A should be kept in abeyance, LiveLaw reported. Adjudication on other sections invoked in these cases can continue as normal, the judges continued, with no prejudice against the accused.

“We hope and expect Centre and State Governments will refrain from registering any FIR, continuing investigation, or taking coercive steps under Section 124 A IPC when it is under reconsideration. It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further reexamination is over,” the bench stated.

Should such cases be registered, parties can approach the court and the court has to expeditiously dispose of the case, the bench added, according to Bar and Bench.

“It would be appropriate to put the provision on abeyance,” the order further said.

Those who have been convicted in sedition cases and are currently in jail can approach the appropriate courts for bail, the bench said.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs in an affidavit filed before the apex court on Tuesday said the decision was in tune with the views of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on shedding colonial baggage , noting he has been in favour of the protection of civil liberties and respect of human rights and in that spirit, over 1,500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance burdens have been scrapped.

On Tuesday, the court asked the Centre to make it clear what would happen to pending sedition cases. The court’s Wednesday decision is significant as opposition leaders had alleged that the so-called ‘review’ was just a way for the government to avoid the Supreme Court case and continue using the law as it pleases in the meanwhile.

The top court has been hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the validity of the law on sedition which has been under intense public scrutiny for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments.

Concerned over the enormous misuse of the penal law on sedition, the top court in July last year had asked the Centre why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence people like Mahatma Gandhi to suppress the freedom movement.

Agreeing to examine the pleas filed by the Editors Guild of India, former Major General S.G. Vombatkere and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A (sedition) in the IPC, the apex court had said its main concern was the “misuse of law” leading to the rise in the number of cases.

The non-bailable provision makes any speech or expression that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India a criminal offence punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

While issuing notice on the petitions in July last year, the top court had referred to the alleged misuse of the provision and had asked if the colonial-era law was still needed after 75 years of Independence.

“This dispute about the law is concerning. It is a colonial law. It was meant to suppress the freedom movement. The same law was used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak, etc. Still, is it necessary after 75 years of Independence?” the CJI had asked.

The sedition case has been used regularly in India. In 2019 alone, 93 new cases were filed across the country.