New Delhi: Just one day ahead of the hearing on whether the challenge to the constitutional validity of the sedition law (Section 124A IPC) should be heard by a larger five-judge Constitution Bench, the Central government on Monday told the Supreme Court it had decided to “re-examine and reconsider” the provisions of the colonial-era law, and urged the court not to go ahead with the hearing of the matter.
Urging the Supreme Court not to hold a hearing on the petitions challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A till the government finishes its reconsideration process, the Centre, in its affidavit filed on Monday, said: “The Government of India, being fully cognizant of various views being expressed on the subject of sedition and also having considered the concerns of civil liberties and human rights, while committed to maintain and protect the sovereignty and integrity of this great nation, has decided to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which can be done only before the competent forum.”
The Centre’s latest position is in sharp contrast with the stance it took in its response filed on Saturday, when it stated that the 1962 five-judge Constitution Bench judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh case, that upheld the validity of 124A IPC, was binding and continues to be “good law and needs no reconsideration”, and added that the ruling upholding the sedition law had “stood the test of time” and applied till date in tune with modern constitutional principles.
On Monday, the Union home ministry indicated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was behind the shift in the government’s position, and said in an affidavit referred to his views on shedding “colonial baggage”, and said he was in favour of the protection of civil liberties and respect of human rights. It said the Prime Minister has said India, as a nation, has to work even harder to shed colonial baggage, that include outdated laws and practices which have passed their utility.
The government said concerns had been raised about the application and abuse of the sedition law for purposes not intended by its provisions. “The Prime Minister has been cognizant of various views expressed on the subject and has also periodically, in various forums, expressed his clear and unequivocal views in favour of the protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights, and giving meaning to the constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country,” it said.
On Saturday, the Central government had told the court: “It is a settled position in law that a judgment which withstood the test of time and has been followed not mechanically but in the context of changing circumstances cannot be easily doubted.” Asserting that only a bench of five judges can raise any doubt on the Kedar Nath Singh verdict, it had said: “The Kedar Nath Singh judgment has been the law of the land for more than six decades. The judgment balances constitutional rights and principles, and the needs of the State, to provide a reasonable interpretation.”
At the last hearing, a special bench of Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, was told by attorney-general K.K. Venugopal, who was requested by the court to assist it, that the Centre favoured retaining the law with guidelines to prevent its misuse. He had cited the instance of misuse when in Maharashtra a person was charged with sedition for reciting “Hanuman Chalisa”. The A-G had also said that there was no need to refer the matter to a five-judge Constitution Bench.
The court is hearing pleas by the Editors Guild of India and Maj. Gen. S.G. Vombatkere (Retd) challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A IPC. The court said its main concern was “misuse of the law” leading to the rising number of cases....