Attorney General K K Venugopal on Thursday told the Supreme Court that the penal provision on sedition needed to be retained in the statute and guidelines may be laid down to prevent its misuse.
Referring to the recent incident where the provision was invoked against independent Lok Sabha MP of Maharashtra for reciting 'Hanuman Chalisa', the top law officer told a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana that the 1962 judgement of a five-judge bench, upholding the validity, in the Kedar Nath case did not require reconsideration by a larger bench and “this judgement, according to me is the last word on the question.”
“Your lordships know what is happening in the country...somebody was detained under this section just because they wanted to chant 'Hanuman Chalisa'. The guidelines may be laid down to prevent misuse. Referring the Kedar Nath (judgement) to a larger bench is not necessary. It is a well-considered judgement,” Venugopal told the bench which also comprised justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
The top court was hearing a batch of petitions challenging the validity of the colonial era penal law on sedition and would decide whether they be referred to a larger bench of five or seven judges or the present three-judge bench can revisit the question. A five-judge bench in the Kedar Nath Singh case in 1962 had upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. It had held that unless accompanied by incitement or a call for violence, the criticism of the government cannot be construed as a seditious offence.
“Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in [India], shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine,” reads section 124A (sedition) of the IPC.
The attorney general, who is assisting the bench in his personal capacity and not as the government counsel, termed the 1962 judgement as a "well-balanced decision which balanced free speech and national security".
“A law, which is fair on its face, will not become invalid and unconstitutional due to the abuse and implementation in violation of fundamental rights. In that case, the individual matters will have to be decided,” Venugopal said.
Equally, an unconstitutional law does not become valid upon proper implementation, he said, adding that therefore, the question is what is so abhorrent about the provision which protects the security of the state and public disorder. “Kedar Nath certainly is a valid judgement which is constitutional and valid and there is no ground for in any manner to refer it to a larger bench...,” he said in his preliminary submissions.
The bench said that it would now hear arguments on May 10 on the legal question of whether the pleas challenging section 124A (sedition) of the IPC be referred to a larger bench and granted time till Monday to the Centre to file its response.
-With PTI Input