Supreme Court's Review of Section 124A Sedition Law

  Sep 15, 2023

Sedition and Kedarnath Ruling

Supreme Court's Examination of Section 124A

What is Section 124A?
Section 124A, also known as the sedition law, is a provision in the Indian Penal Code formulated in 1860 during the British colonial rule. It criminalizes any words, signs, or visible representation that can cause "disaffection" towards the government.

What prompted the Supreme Court to revisit this section now?
The Supreme Court decided to revisit this section amidst petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A, especially considering the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, which is proposed to replace the existing penal code.

What is the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill?
It is a draft law proposed to replace the British-made penal code of 1860. The bill is currently under review by a parliamentary standing committee and might be presented in the Winter Session of Parliament.

What stance has the government taken on this?
The government suggested deferring the case, awaiting the parliamentary decision on the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill. However, the Supreme Court found no merit in this suggestion and decided to refer it to a larger bench of five judges for a "substantive hearing".

What did the Chief Justice of India say about the new law?
Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud mentioned that even if the new law comes into force, it will only govern future cases, and the existing prosecutions under Section 124A will continue unless the new law states its retrospective effect or parliament declares all pending cases under this section to lapse.

What are the concerns with the new clause proposed to replace Section 124A?
Senior advocates representing the petitioners argued that the new clause, which avoids using the term 'sedition', is more draconian as it describes the offense as any act "endangering the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India".

What was the outcome of the recent hearing?
The Supreme Court refused to comment on the bill and its provisions but emphasized that the re-examination of Section 124A must consider the 1962 judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar case, which upheld the legality of Section 124A, limiting its applicability to "activities involving incitement to violence or intention to create disturbance of public peace".

1962 Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar Case

What is the Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar case?
In 1962, a five judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A (sedition) in the case of Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar. This case became a landmark judgment in defining the boundaries of sedition law in India.

What were the circumstances leading to this case?
Kedar Nath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party, was charged with sedition for allegedly making inflammatory speeches against the then government. The case brought the scrutiny of Section 124A under the lens, questioning its constitutional validity.

What was the Supreme Court's ruling in this case?
The Supreme Court upheld the validity of Section 124A, stating that it does not infringe upon the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. However, the court narrowed down its applicability to "activities involving incitement to violence or intention to create disturbance of public peace".

How did the court define the limits of Section 124A?
The court delineated that any comment on the government's measures or actions, seeking to obtain a change of government by lawful means, without inciting violence, does not constitute sedition. It emphasized that a citizen has a right to say or write whatever they like about the government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment.

How does this ruling impact the current scenario?
The ruling in the Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar case stands as a precedent in the current scenario where the Supreme Court is revisiting the constitutional validity of Section 124A. The 1962 judgment will play a pivotal role in determining the contours of sedition law in India.

What is the significance of this case in the legal framework of India?
This case is significant as it upheld the sedition law while setting boundaries to prevent misuse. It aimed to balance the government's interest in maintaining public order and the individual's right to freedom of speech and expression


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