A bench of Justices U U Lalit and Ajay Rastogi deferred the hearing after solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, sought time to file an affidavit. The court also asked attorney general K K Venugopal, who was also issued notice on the petition, to file his response on the issue.
Six decades after upholding the constitutional validity of Section 124A of IPC, the apex court had in May agreed to examine whether the verdict needed a re-look and whether the penal provision has lost its relevance in the present condition.
The petition has been filed by two journalists who challenged the validity of the penal provision which prescribes punishment of up to life imprisonment.
The journalists, who are themselves facing sedition charges for allegedly voicing against political leaders and had to spend months in jail, pleaded that the law had outlived its utility and it was being misused by people in power against those who criticise them. They contended that many countries, including England, which had introduced sedition law in India, have scrapped the penal provision pertaining to the offence of sedition and pleaded the court to re-examine the law in the present context. They alleged that the validity of Section 124A was upheld by the apex court in 1962 as it was the need of the hour to prevent public violence and public disorder that fell short of waging war against the state.
“Section 124A, was, at the time a necessary tool in crime control. It is conceivable that if sedition had been held unconstitutional in 1962, there may have been a lacuna in the law, the mischief — public disorder and violence — going unpunished. Contrastingly, in 2021, this is not the case. Alternative, less intrusive legislations are now available. The last nearly sixty years have seen extensive enactment of new legislations dealing directly with safety and security, public disorder and terrorism. Prominent among these are the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, Public Safety Act and the National Security Act. Various sections of these Acts deal directly with the overt conduct that sedition seeks to make penal — inciting violence and public disorder,” the petition said.
While upholding the validity of Section 124A, a Constitution bench of the apex court in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar case read down the section and held that acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence would be made penal by Section 124A.
Referring to the misuse of Section 124A, the petitioner journalists — Manipur-based 41-year-old Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and 53-year-old Chhattisgarh-based Kanhaiya Lal Shukla — alleged the number of sedition cases registered across the country doubled from 35 in 2016 to 75 in 2018 but no chargesheets were filed in over 70% of the cases, and only four of the 43 cases where trial has been completed resulted in convictions.