SC allows sedition law review, seeks Centre’s response on citizen’s rights in pending, future cases

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed the Centre to re-examine the sedition law and sought government’s response to a suggestion that registering of new cases under the colonial-era law be put on hold till the review exercise is over.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana expressed concern over Sec 124A being slapped at the drop of a hat but took note of the Centre’s submission that the government has decided to “re-examine and reconsider” the sedition law by an “appropriate forum”.
The top court also asked the Centre if it could frame guidelines for the states to ensure that the rights of those already arrested under Section 124A are protected till the review is over.
“We are making it very clear. We want instructions. We will give you time till tomorrow. Our specific queries are: one about pending cases and the second, as to how the government will take care of future cases,” said the bench.
It sought a response on the issue saying “if future cases can be kept at abeyance till reconsideration is over”.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, said that he would take instructions from the government and apprise the bench on Wednesday.
The Centre had earlier told the apex court that a competent forum would reconsider the sedition law.
The affidavit, filed by an official of the ministry of home affairs, said that the government has decided to “re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A of the IPC which can only be done before the competent forum.”
“… it is respectfully submitted that this Hon’ble court may not invest time in examining the validity of section 124A of the IPC once again and be pleased to await the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the Government of India before an appropriate forum where such reconsideration is constitutionally permitted,” the affidavit said.
However, on Saturday the Centre had defended the penal law on sedition and the 1962 verdict of a constitution bench upholding its validity, saying they have withstood “the test of time” about six decades and the instances of its abuse would never be a justification of reconsideration.
Law minister Kiren Rijiju said the change of government stand was in line with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s direction of shedding “colonial baggage” by removing all obsolete and colonial laws.
Rijiju said Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his view clearly in favour of protection of civil liberties, respect for human rights and giving meaning to constitutional freedoms.
He also said that the government will “suitably” take into account views of stakeholders and ensure that the sovereignty and integrity of the country is preserved while re-examining and reconsidering the law on sedition.
The top court has been hearing a clutch of pleas challenging the validity of the law on sedition which has been under intense public scrutiny for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments.
(With inputs from agencies)