New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday deferred the hearing on a petition challenging the constitutional validity of section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) 1860, which penalises the crime of “sedition,” to July 27.
A bench of the top court, headed by Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, adjourned the matter after it was informed that Attorney General (AG) KK Venugopal and Solicitor General (SG) Tushar Mehta will need more time to file replies in the issue. During the last hearing in the matter on May 1, the apex court had issued notice to the Union of India (UOI) and sought its detailed response by July 12 to take a decision on examining the constitutional validity of section 124-A of the IPC 1860.
The writ petitions were jointly filed before the Supreme Court by two journalists — Kirechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiyalal Shukla — from Manipur and Chhattisgarh respectively. The two journalists prayed for an appropriate writ, order or direction declaring Section 124-A of the IPC, 1860 to be unconstitutional and void.
Colin Gonsalves, Senior Lawyer, appearing for the two petitioners submitted to the top court that the decision rendered by the constitution bench of Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh against State of Bihar, 1962, may require reconsideration.
The plea said that section 124-A “clearly infringes the fundamental right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India which guarantees that all citizens shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression”.
Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code says that whoever by words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation, or otherwise, attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life.
“The restriction imposed by section 124-A is unreasonable and therefore does not constitute a permissible restriction in terms of Article 19(2) of the Constitution,” the petition said.
“Section 124-A is unnecessary to protect the interests of state security and public disorder, and is duplicated by more recent legislation which directly and sufficiently prevents and deals with the mischief of public disorder and public violence,” the petition added.
The petition said there exists “no urgency” justifying the use of Section 124-A, given that the interests of state security and the public order are sufficiently protected elsewhere in Indian law.
“Section 124-A is a disproportionate imposition on the freedom of expression and fails to constitute the least restrictive means to protect state security and public disorder in this regard,” the plea said.
It said the section fails to meet the international standard of “necessity” which “India is under the obligation to meet as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”
The petition noted the terms “intention” and “tendency” in the interpretation of Section 124-A are “so subjective that the law is uncertain and unascertainable and are an invitation to abuse by authorities.”
“The vagueness of Section 124-A exerts an unacceptable chilling effect on the democratic freedoms of individuals who cannot enjoy their legitimate democratic rights and freedoms for fear of life imprisonment,” the petition said.
“Section 124-A is frequently abused and misapplied in India and it calls itself a democracy. Throughout the democratic world in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada and many others, the offence of sedition has been condemned as undemocratic, undesirable and unnecessary,” the plea added.