16 Sep 2023 6:40 AM GMT
In its recent order referring the batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code to a bench of at-least five judges, the Supreme Court noted that the judgement in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962), which had upheld the provisions of Section 124A, had not considered the aspect of Articles 14 of the Constitution in...
In its recent order referring the batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of Sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code to a bench of at-least five judges, the Supreme Court noted that the judgement in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962), which had upheld the provisions of Section 124A, had not considered the aspect of Articles 14 of the Constitution in the matter.
The petitioners in the case had argued that the expressions used in the section were vague, over-broad, and amenable to arbitrary use. Thus, the same violated Article 14 of the Indian Constitution. It was asserted that this aspect of the matter was not considered in the judgement in Kedar Nath Singh. It was submitted that Section 124A had only been tested on Article 19(1)(a). However, in view of the development of law that had taken place in since the judgment in Kedar Nath Singh, it would be necessary to re-evaluate the validity of Section 124A on the basis of the ambit of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court in its order took note of the same and remarked that in the Kedar Nath Singh judgement, the Court held that the provision of Section 124A made it clear that the section aimed at rendering only such activities penal which would be intended to create "disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence". In light of the same, the Court had held that Section 124A would be consistent with Article 19(1)(a). However, the court stated–
"There was no challenge on the ground that Section 124A violated Article 14 nor did the Constitution Bench have occasion to consider the validity of the provision against a constitutional challenge on the basis of Article 14. The position as it has evolved in constitutional jurisprudence is that the fundamental rights do not exist in silos. There is, in other words, a coalescence of several of the rights protected by Part III. Article 14, which presents an overarching principle of reasonableness permeates Articles 19 and 21 as well."
In light of the same, in the last hearing of the matter, a three-judge bench led by CJI DY Chandrachud had stated that a reference to a larger bench was needed in the matter as the provision was upheld by a 5-judge bench in the 1962 judgment Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar and being a smaller bench, it may not be appropriate for it to doubt or overrule Kedar Nath. The bench had stated in its order that Kedar Nath was decided on the basis of the narrow understanding of the fundamental rights which was prevalent then. Also, Kedar Nath examined the issue only from the angle of Article 19, as per the understanding of Constitutional law prevalent then that the fundamental rights operate in distinct silos. Later, this understanding of law changed in view of subsequent judgments which held that Articles 14, 19 and 21 operate in harmony. Further, the bench had turned down the request made by the Central Government to defer the hearing due to the introduction of a new bill in the Parliament to replace the Indian Penal Code. The bench remarked that even if the new Bill becomes a law, the past cases under Section 124A IPC will not be affected as the new penal law can only apply prospectively. Therefore, the new law will not obviate the need for a constitutional adjudication on the validity of the provision, the bench stated in its earlier order.
In May 2022, the Supreme Court had ordered that the 152-year old sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code should be effectively kept in abeyance till the Union Government reconsiders the provision. In an interim order, the Court had also urged the Centre and the State governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the said provision while it was under re-consideration.
It is interesting to note that the bench passed the order after observing the Union Government's stand that the colonial provision requires "re-consideration and re-examination" as the Government had agreed with the prima facie view expressed by the Court that the "rigours of 124A IPC isn't in tune with current social milieu and was intended for when the country was under colonial regime". In a later hearing in the batch of pleas challenging the sedition law, the central government had informed the Supreme Court that it was in the process of re-examining Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and that the said process was in an advanced stage.
On August 11, 2023, the Union Government introduced three bills in the Lok Sabha aimed at replacing the core legal framework governing India's criminal justice system. The bills, introduced for consideration, seek to repeal and replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and the Indian Evidence Act (IEA). While passing the bills, the Home Minister Amit Shah indicated a major shift in the government's stance on the issue of Sedition Law and stated that the proposed IPC replacement bill, known as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 (the Bill), would completely repeal the offence of sedition (Section 124A IPC). However, Part VII of the proposed Bill titled "Of Offences against the State" consists of Section 150 which criminalises "acts endangering sovereignty unity and integrity of India".
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