Hearing a criminal PIL relating to arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and application of charges relating to sedition provided in the Indian Penal Code against him, the Bombay High Court today said, “it is clear that the provisions of section 124A of IPC cannot be invoked to penalize criticism of the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on administration or strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of Government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means.”
The judgment delivered by the Division Bench consisting of the Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice N.M. Jamdar also said, Similarly, comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal. A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comments, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder. The section aims at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence.”
The Court, which had granted bail to Aseem Trivedi on a bond of Rs. 5000/- was hearing a public interest litigation filed by a lawyer, Sanskar Marathe in 2012.
The High Court in its judgment, further said, “Cartoons or caricatures are visual representations, words or signs which are supposed to have an element of wit, humour or sarcasm. Having seen the seven cartoons in question drawn by the third respondent, it is difficult to find any element of wit or humour or sarcasm. The cartoons displayed at a meeting held on 27 November 2011 in Mumbai, as a part of movement launched by Anna Hazare against corruption in India, were full of anger and disgust against corruption prevailing in the political system and had no element of wit or humour or sarcasm. But for that reason, the freedom of speech and expression available to the third respondent to express his indignation against corruption in the political system in strong terms or visual representations could not have been encroached upon when there is no allegation of incitement to violence or the tendency or the intention to create public disorder.”
However, the Court did not come down strictly on the government and accepted the submissions of the Advocate General who submitted that State Government in Home Department will issue the guidelines regarding applicability of S. 124 A, in the form of a Circular to all the Police personnel.
Read the Judgment here.