Colonial legacy not a valid ground for repeal of sedition law, retain with safeguards: Law panel

New Delhi: The Law Commission, in its report to the government, has said it is of the view that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with sedition needs to be retained, though certain amendments could be introduced to bring about greater clarity regarding usage of the provision and stressed that sedition being a “colonial legacy” is not a valid ground for its repeal.

It said it is cognisant of the views regarding the misuse of Section 124A, and recommends that model guidelines curbing the misuse be issued by the Centre.

The 22nd Law Commission’s Chairman, Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi (retd), in his covering letter to Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal, said: “In this context, it is also alternatively suggested that a provision analogous to Section 196(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) may be incorporated as a proviso to Section 154 of CrPC, which would provide the requisite procedural safeguard before filing of an FIR with respect to an offence under Section 124A of IPC.”

The Commission, in its report, said: “In our considered opinion, it is imperative to lay down certain procedural guidelines for curbing any misuse of Section l24A of IPC by the law enforcement authorities, any allegation of misuse of this provision does not by implication warrant a call for its repeal.”

The report said Section I24A of IPC has its utility in combating anti-national and secessionist elements as it seeks to protect the elected government from attempts to overthrow it through violent and illegal means. “The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition for the security and stability of the state. In this context, it becomes imperative to retain Section l24A and ensure that all such subversive activities are nipped in their incipiency,” said the report.

The commission said sedition being a “colonial legacy” is not a valid ground for its repeal and merely ascribing the term “colonial” to a law or institution does not by itself ascribe to it an idea of anachronism.

“People are at liberty to indulge in healthy and constructive criticism of their government in a democratic set-up. What Section l24A of IPC seeks to penalise is only the pernicious tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder in the guise of exercising the right to freedom of speech and expression,” said the report.

The commission stressed that the existence of laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Security Act “does not by implication cover all elements of the offence envisaged under Section 124A of the IPC”.

Justice Awasthi, in the covering letter, mentioned the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 124A before the Supreme Court.

“The Union of India assured the Supreme Court that it was re-examining Section l24A and the court may not invest its valuable time in doing the same. Pursuant to the same and vide order passed on May 11, 2022, the Supreme Court directed the central government and all the State governments to refrain from registering any FIR or taking any coercive measures, while suspending all continuing investigations in relation to Section 124A. Further, it also directed that all pending trials, appeals, and proceedings be kept in abeyance,” he said.

The commission said there are a plethora of examples of various laws being misused by ill-intentioned individuals only to settle their scores in cases of personal rivalries and vested interests, with even the Supreme Court recognising the same in a number of decisions. “Never has there been any plausible demand to repeal any such laws merely on the ground that they are being misused by a section of the populace,” said the report.

The commission stressed that it is necessary to introduce legal ways and means to prevent the misuse of such a law. “In the same vein, while any alleged misuse of Section 124 of IPC can be reined in by laying down adequate procedural safeguards, repealing the provision altogether can have serious adverse ramifications for the security and integrity of the countrya,” said the report.

According to the letter, the Law Commission received a reference from the Home Ministry through a letter dated March 29, 2016, addressed to the Department of Legal Affairs in the Law Ministry for a study of the usage of the provision of Section 124A and suggest amendments, if any.


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