In the consultation paper, the government’s top advisory panel on laws contended that every irresponsible exercise of right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious.
Amid calls for scrapping the colonial-era sedition law, it has emerged that the Law Commission had called for a re-think or repeal way back in 2018, contending that every irresponsible exercise of right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious. In the consultation paper, the government’s top advisory panel on laws had said in a democracy, singing from the same songbook was not a benchmark of patriotism.
If the country is not open to positive criticism, there lies little difference between the pre and post-independence eras, the Commission had said. It also said that expression of frustration over the state of affairs cannot be treated as sedition.
Should sedition be not redefined in a country like India the largest democracy of the world, considering that right to free speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy ensured as a Fundamental Right by our Constitution? it asked.
It wondered that given the fact that all the existing statutes cover the various offences against the individual and / or the offences against the society, will reducing the rigour of Sec.124A or repealing it be detrimental or beneficial to the nation.
The Commission had noted that while it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.
Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinised to avoid unwarranted restrictions, it had noted.
The Commission underlined that every irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious.
For merely expressing a thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the Government of the day, a person should not be charged under the section, it had said.
The Commission observed that expression of frustration over the state of affairs, for instance, calling India no country for women’, or a country that is racist’ for its obsession with skin colour as a marker of beauty are critiques that do not threaten’ the idea of a nation.
As the debate has escalated on whether the law should be repealed due to its alleged abuse by government authorities, the Union government on Monday, May 9, told the Supreme Court not to “invest time” in examining its validity as it has decided to go for a re-consideration of the provisions by a competent forum.
The Union government also said it was cognizant of various views and concerns about civil liberties while being committed to protecting the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, in an affidavit, referred to the views of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on shedding the colonial baggage, and said he has been in favour of protection of civil liberties and respect for human rights, and in that spirit, over 1,500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance burdens have been scrapped.
A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli had on May 5 said it will hear arguments on May 10 on the legal question of whether the pleas challenging the colonial-era penal law on sedition be referred to a larger bench for reconsidering the 1962 verdict of a five-judge constitution bench in the Kedar Nath Singh case.
In the Kedar Nath Singh case, the Supreme Court had upheld the constitutional validity of the sedition law but attempted to check the scope for its misuse. The apex court had ruled that unless accompanied by incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labelled sedition.