Tuesday, Dec 05, 2023

'Criticism Of State Is Not Sedition': Why Law Commission Recommended Repeal Of Sedition Law In 2018

'Criticism Of State Is Not Sedition': Why Law Commission Recommended Repeal Of Sedition Law In 2018

The Law Commission in 2018 said that irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious.

Representational Image Creative Commons/ File

The Union government told the Supreme Court on Monday that it will re-examine and reconsider the sedition law. The government, in an affidavit, said that the Indian Penal Code's Section 124A, which criminalises sedition, is one of the criminal laws that it has decided to reconsider.

While the government is rethinking the law now, the Law Commission had called for a rethink or a repeal in 2018. It had been said that irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious. 

At the same time, it noted that while it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.

Panel said criticism of State is not sedition

The Law Commission, 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.

It added, "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."

The Commission observed that expressions 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. 

The panel wondered if sedition should be redefined

The Law Commission wondered that given the fact that all the existing statutes cover the various offences against the individual and against the society, will reducing the rigour of IPC Section 124A or repealing it be detrimental or beneficial to the nation.

It asked, “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?”

The panel further said that restrictions on free speech and expressions should be carefully scrutinized. It said, "Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinised to avoid unwarranted restrictions."

What's the current case in Supreme Court?

The Supreme Court has taken up a clutch of petitions challenging the sedition law. Earlier on May 5, the apex court said had said it would hear arguments on May 10 on the legal question of whether these petitions should be transferred to a larger bench for reconsidering the 1962 verdict of a five-judge constitution bench in the Kedar Nath Singh case – this case upheld the constitutional validity of sedition law.

It is in this context that the Union government said it would reconsider the sedition law. 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 the 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.

(With PTI inputs)