The Union government told the Supreme Court on Monday it would review and reconsider the Sedition Act. The government, in an affidavit, said Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes sedition, is one of the criminal laws it has decided to reconsider.
While the government is currently reviewing the law, the Law Commission had called for an overhaul or repeal in 2018. It has been said that the irresponsible exercise of the right to free speech and expression cannot be called a seditious.
At the same time, he noted that while it is essential to protect national integrity, it should not be misused as a tool to restrict freedom of expression.
Panel said criticism of the state is not sedition
The Law Commission, the government’s main advisory group on laws, had said that in a democracy singing from the same songbook was not a benchmark of patriotism.
“If the country is not open to positive reviews, there is little difference between the pre- and post-independence eras,” the Commission had said.
He also said that expressing frustration with the state of affairs cannot be treated as sedition.
He added: “For merely expressing a thought, which is not in accordance with government policy at the time, a person should not be charged under the section.”
The Commission observed that expressions of frustration with the situation, for example, calling India “no country for women” or a “racist” country for its obsession with skin color as a marker of beauty, are criticisms that do not “threaten” the idea of a nation.
The panel discussed whether sedition should be redefined
The Law Commission wondered that since all existing laws cover the various offenses against the individual and against society, reducing the stringency of section 124A of the IPC or repealing it would be detrimental or beneficial to the nation.
He asked: “Shouldn’t sedition be redefined in a country like India – the largest democracy in the world, considering that the right to freedom of speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy guaranteed as a fundamental right by our Constitution?
The panel further said restrictions on freedom of speech and expression should be carefully considered. He said: “Dissent and criticism are essential ingredients of robust public debate on political issues in the context of a vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on freedom of speech and expression must be carefully considered to avoid unjustified restrictions.”
What is the pending case before the Supreme Court?
The Supreme Court has heard a series of petitions challenging the sedition law. Earlier on May 5, the Supreme Court said it would hear arguments on May 10 on the legal question of whether these petitions should be transferred to a larger court to reconsider the 1962 verdict of a constitutional court composed of five judges in the Kedar Nath Singh. case – this case upheld the constitutional validity of the Sedition Act.
It was in this context that the Union government said it would reconsider the Sedition Act. The Interior Ministry, in an affidavit, referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s views on shedding ‘colonial baggage’ and said it was in favor of protecting civil liberties and respecting of human rights, and in this spirit, over 1,500 outdated laws and over 25,000 compliance obligations have been removed.
(With PTI inputs)