The Supreme Court on Thursday, while hearing a petition challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law, termed it as a “colonial law used against the freedom fighters of India”.
Concerned over the “enormous misuse” of the colonial era penal law, the court noted, “The sedition law is a colonial law and was used by the British and to suppress our freedom. It was used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.”
While stating that it would examine the validity of the sedition law, the apex court sought the Centre’s response over it and asked, “Is this law still needed after 75 years of Independence?”
The bench, headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana and comprising Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, said several petitions have challenged the sedition law and all will be heard together.
Agreeing to examine the pleas filed by Editors Guild of India and a former major general, challenging the constitutionality of section 124A (sedition) in the IPC, the court added, “Our concern is misuse of the law and no accountability of the executive.”
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.
Wondering at the continuance of the sedition law in statute book for the last 75 years, the court said, “We do not know why the government is not taking a decision. Your government has been getting rid of stale laws.”
The bench also referred to the alarming misuse of Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act even after the top court set it aside long back and observed: “It can be compared to a carpenter, asked to cut a wood, but cut the entire forest.”
CJI Ramana said “a factionist can invoke these types of (penal) provisions to implicate the other group of people,” adding that if a particular party or people do not want to hear a voice, they will use this law to implicate others.
Even as the bench said that it was not blaming any state or government, it termed it “unfortunate” that the executing agency misuses these laws and “there is no accountability”.
Meanwhile, Attorney General K K Venugopal, who was asked to assist the Supreme Court bench in dealing with the case, defended the provision and said it be allowed to remain in the statute book and the court may lay down guidelines to curb the misuse.
Earlier, a separate bench had sought response from the Centre on the plea challenging validity of sedition law, filed by two journalists — Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla — working in Manipur and Chhattisgarh respectively.