Can states avoid sedition cases till relook, asks SC

NEW DELHI: A day after being informed that the government intends to re-examine Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to respond by Wednesday morning whether it could ask the states not to slap sedition charges on anyone and ensure protection of rights of those booked under the much-abused provision until the exercise had been completed.
Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, opposed the Centre’s adjournment request. CJI NV Ramana said, “We should not appear unreasonable.”
Agreeing to halt testing the constitutional validity of the sedition provision in Section 124A, a bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli said it respected the Centre’s request for adjournment, but was duty-bound to strike a balance by protecting the rights of citizens.
“There are concerns. One is the cases which are pending. The other is its misuse. The attorney general (KK Venugopal) the other day said chanting ‘Hanuman Chalisa’ has resulted in a sedition case. How are we going to protect people in such a scenario?” the bench asked.
The bench said, “We will respect the government’s request. At the same time, we have to balance the rights of the people who are already booked under sedition provision and those who are going to be booked in future. That is, those already arrested and those against whom the provision may be invoked.”
When solicitor general Tushar Mehta said he would take instructions from the government, the bench said, “We will give time till tomorrow morning. Whatever instructions you get it from the government. If you want time (for re-examination of Section 124A), we will definitely consider and pass an order.”
To a pointed query from the bench as to how long the review exercise would take, the SG said that he could not hazard a guess.
The bench in its order said, “Meanwhile, (you take instructions) how to protect the interest of the people who are already booked under Section 124A as well as whether invocation (of Section 124A) can be kept in abeyance till (the government completes the exercise of) re-examination of the provision. List the matters tomorrow for clarifications from the government.”
Leading a bunch of petitioners, senior advocate Kapil Sibal vehemently opposed the Centre’s adjournment request to carry out re-examination of the sedition provision. “Merely because the executive has expressed intention to go through a legal process, which may take six months or one year, the court cannot be asked to wait.”
The CJI said, “When the government is saying it is re-examining, we should not be unreasonable. So far as that request is concerned, we will decide how much time is to be given for that exercise.”
On the court’s query whether the home ministry could issue a guideline asking states not to invoke Section 124A till its re-examination, the SG said the FIRs are lodged by state police and the Centre has nothing to do with it. “Whenever there is misuse or abuse of Section 124A, the ag- grieved person has the remedy of moving the constitutional courts,” he said. The CJI-led bench said, “We cannot ask each citizen booked under Section 124A to go to constitutional courts for remedy.