Home / News / India /  SC places sedition law on hold till Centre reviews it

NEW DELHI : The Supreme Court in a historic order on Wednesday put the sedition law on hold, asserting it “is not in tune with the current social milieu", and asked the Centre and states not to arrest or prosecute anyone under the 152-year-old penal provision until the Union government reviews it.

A bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana emphasized that “it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the provision of law by the governments" when the Centre itself has conveyed a desire to “reconsider and re-examine" the contours and validity of the colonial-era section 124A of the Indian Penal Code—a non-bailable offence punishable with jail terms ranging from three years to life, and one that activists and jurists allege is often misused to muzzle dissent.

“It is clear that the Union of India agrees with the prima facie opinion expressed by this court that the rigours of section 124A of IPC are not in tune with the current social milieu, and was intended for a time when this country was under the colonial regime. In light of the same, the Union of India may reconsider the aforesaid provision of law," said the bench, which also comprised justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, in its 10-page order.

Putting in place a protective apparatus till the time the central government takes a call on the law, the top court said no new first information report (FIR) should be lodged by the police across the country under section 124A, and all court proceedings under the law should be suspended.

“We hope and expect that the state and central governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation, or taking any coercive measures by invoking section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration...All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance," directed the bench as it fixed the matter for hearing next in the third week of July.

It further clarified that if any fresh case is registered under the section despite the court order, the affected parties should approach the concerned courts, which should pass suitable orders, “taking into account the present order passed (by the Supreme Court) as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India."

About cases where the sedition charge has been invoked against the accused along with a set of other penal provisions, the bench left it to the wisdom of trial courts and high courts to decide if such cases can proceed in relation to other charges, without causing any prejudice to the rights of the accused.

The bench pointed out that it is cognisant of security interests and integrity of the State on the 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," noted the court, turning down the Centre’s plea not to put the law in abeyance.

“In addition to the above, the Union of India shall be at liberty to issue the directive as proposed and placed before us, to the state governments/Union territories to prevent any misuse of section 124A of IPC," added the top court in its order.

The note the bench referred to during the proceedings was handed over to it by solicitor general Tushar Mehta on Wednesday. This note contained certain directives, which Mehta said the Centre could issue to states and UTs in order to check abuse of section 124A.

Senior lawyers Kapil Sibal and Gopal Sankaranarayanan represented the petitioners.

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