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Sedition Law in India: Retaining, Reforming, or Repealing?

The 22nd Law Commission’s recent report on Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has recommended retaining the sedition law while proposing amendments and procedural safeguards to prevent its misuse. This article delves into the significance of the sedition law, the Law Commission’s recommendations, and the arguments surrounding its retention or repeal.

Historical Background: Origin and enactment:

Sedition laws originated in 17th century England and were introduced in India through the IPC in 1870.

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Colonial legacy

Critics argue that the sedition law has its roots in the colonial era when it was used to stifle dissent against British policies. Prominent leaders of the freedom movement were charged with sedition during that time.

Significance of Sedition Law: Reasonable restrictions

The Indian Constitution allows for reasonable restrictions on the right to freedom of speech and expression (Article 19(2)). Supporters of the sedition law argue that it ensures responsible exercise of this right.

National security

Proponents contend that the sedition law aids in combating anti-national, secessionist, and terrorist elements, protecting the unity and integrity of the nation.

Stability of the state:

Maintaining the elected government’s stability is crucial, and the sedition law is seen as a deterrent against attempts to overthrow the government through violence or illegal means.

Law Commission’s Recommendations: Retaining Section 124A

The Commission argues against repealing Section 124A solely based on the actions of other countries, emphasizing India’s unique realities. It highlights the colonial influence pervasive in the Indian legal system.

Amendments and procedural safeguards:

The Commission suggests adding a preliminary inquiry requirement by a police officer of Inspector rank before registering a First Information Report (FIR) for sedition. Permission from the Central or State Government would be necessary based on the officer’s report. The incorporation of a provision similar to Section 196(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, is proposed for procedural safeguards. Additionally, the amendment would specify that sedition penalizes individuals with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder.

Enhanced punishment:

The report recommends increasing the maximum jail term for sedition to seven years or life imprisonment, up from the current term of up to three years or life imprisonment.

Arguments for Retention:

Upholding national security: Supporters argue that allegations of misuse should not lead to the repeal of the sedition law, as it plays a vital role in safeguarding the country’s security and integrity.

Preventing subversive forces:

Repealing the sedition law entirely could create a void, allowing subversive elements to exploit the situation and pose a threat to the nation.

Arguments for Repeal: Colonial relic:

Critics view the sedition law as a relic of the colonial era and assert that its rampant use under British rule should not be perpetuated in independent India.

Supreme Court’s stance:

Invoking sedition charges against individuals who do not meet the Supreme Court’s limited interpretation of sedition, as established in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962, disregards the court’s judgment.

Suppression of dissent:

Critics argue that the sedition law can be misused to suppress legitimate protests and curtail freedom of speech and expression, undermining democratic values.

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