Monday, September 5, 2016

Can't slap sedition case for criticizing govt: SC

The Supreme Court clarified on Monday that sedition charges cannot be brought against a person merely for raising a voice against the government or its policies.

The clarification became necessary in view of the controversy generated after sedition charges were recently slapped in a number of cases , sparking demands for the law to be scrapped.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and UU Lalit said the apex court had settled the controversy on sedition law way back in 1962 and had clarified under what circumstances the penal provision could be used.

"We are of the opinion that the authorities, while dealing with offences under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, shall be guided by the principles laid down by the Constitution Bench in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar," the bench said. Refusing to re-examine the issue afresh, the bench said the guidelines framed by the Constitution Bench 54 years ago were good enough in the present circumstances.

The court had clarified in its 1962 verdict that a "citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder".

The court had pointed out two essential ingredients required to establish the crime of sedition - the acts must be intended to have the "effect of subverting the government" by violent means, and the acts must be intended to create disorder or disturbance of public peace and order by resort to violence and must incite violence. It had clarified that comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapproval of government actions, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence was not sedition.

Seeking the court's intervention to stop misuse of IPC Section 124A, advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for NGO Common Cause, contended that it was high time the court examined the issue as the law was misused despite the apex court's order. He said police personnel were not aware of the 1962 verdict.

The law has not been amended after the Kedar Nath Singh judgment by the apex court and a constable does not understand the judgment, what he understands is the section in the IPC, he said.

Referring to an NCRB report, the plea said 47 cases of sedition were filed in 2014 alone and 58 people arrested in connection with these cases. The bench, however, was not convinced and refused to pass any direction.

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