Order putting sedition law on hold to continue, SC grants time to Centre, Legal News, ET LegalWorld – Legal Firms

(Eds: Adds details) New Delhi, An interim order putting on hold the contentious sedition law and the consequential registration of FIRs will continue to be operational as the Supreme Court granted additional time to the Centre on Monday to take “appropriate steps” with regard to the reviewing of the colonial-era provision.

A bench of Chief Justice Uday Umesh Lalit and justices S Ravindra Bhat and Bela M Trivedi was told by Attorney General R Venkataramani that some more time be granted to the Centre as “something may happen in the winter session of Parliament”.

The topmost law officer said the issue has been under consideration of the authorities concerned and moreover, there is “no reason to worry” in view of the May 11 interim order, which put the use of the provision on hold.

“Mr R Venkataramani, the attorney general, submits that in terms of the directions issued by this court in order dated May 11, 2022, the matter is still engaging the attention of the relevant authorities. He submits that some additional time be granted so that appropriate steps can be taken by the government.

“In view of the interim directions issued by this court…dated May 11, 2022, every interest and concern stand protected and as such there would be no prejudice to anyone. At his request, we adjourn the matter to the second week of January 2023,” the bench said.

It also took note of certain other petitions on the matter and issued notices to the Centre, seeking its reply in six weeks’ time.

At the outset of the brief hearing, the attorney general said the Centre was looking into the issues and something might happen in the next Parliament session.

In response to a query on whether the Centre has issued any communication to the states on the penal provision, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said the directions in consonance with the apex court’s order have been sent to the chief secretaries of the states.

In the landmark order passed on May 11, the court had put the contentious law on hold till the Centre completed its promised review of the colonial relic and also asked the Union and state governments not to register any fresh case invoking the offence.

It had also directed that the ongoing probes, pending trials and all proceedings under the sedition law will be kept in abeyance across the country and those in jail on sedition charges could approach the court for bail.

“This court is cognizant of the security interests and the integrity of the State on one hand, and the civil liberties of citizens on the other. There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations, which is a difficult exercise,” the court had said.

The offence of sedition, which was included in section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1890, has been under intense public scrutiny for its use as a tool against expressions of dissent, including on social media.

The British government, during its colonial rule, used the sedition law primarily to suppress dissent and imprison freedom fighters such as Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.

“We expect that till the re-examination of the provision is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the governments,” the top court had said.

Any affected party is at liberty to approach the courts concerned, which are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into consideration the present order, it had said.

The Editors Guild of India, Major General (Retd) S G Vombatkere, former Union minister Arun Shourie and People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) have filed the petitions on the issue. The petitions have contended that the law causes a “chilling effect” on free speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.

Between 2015 and 2020, 356 cases of sedition — as defined under section 124A of the IPC — were registered and 548 people arrested, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). However, only 12 people arrested in seven sedition cases were convicted in the six-year period. PTI SJK RC

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