Constitutionality of Sedition | Day 1: CJI Ramana Concerned About Section 124A MisuseConstitutionality of Sedition
On July 16th, 2021, a three-judge Bench consisting of Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, and Justices Bopanna and Roy heard S.G. Vombatkere’s petition challenging the constitutional validity of sedition.
Tagging of all Pending Challenges to Constitutionality of Sedition
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal pointed out the Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha petition currently before Justice Lalit’s bench. Wangkhemcha’s petition also challenges the constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 criminalising sedition.
Advocate P.B. Suresh, on behalf of the petitioner, referred to the proceedings in another pending case—Aamoda Broadcasting Company Pvt. Ltd. v. State of Andhra Pradesh. In a recent order in this case, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud’s Bench had commented on the need to reconsider the interpretation of Section 124A. The Bench had noted that such reconsideration was necessary in the context of the rights of electronic and print media to disseminate information that may be critical of the government.
Justice Ramanna believed that it would be appropriate to hear S.G. Vombatkere’s petition along with these two cases, and other pending matters dealing with similar subjects. Accordingly, the Bench has tagged three petitioners’ cases to be heard along with Vombatkere’s—Wangkhemkcha, Aamoda Broadcasting, and Editors Guild of India.
CJI Ramana Concerned About the Misuse of Section 124A
CJI Ramana commented on the colonial history of sedition law. He asked whether a law that was used to suppress freedom fighters such as M.K. Gandhi and B.G. Tilak was required in an independent country. He was surprised at the Government’s lack of initiative to repeal Section 124A in the same manner in that it had repealed other pre-Independence laws.
He observed that even though conviction rates under Section 124A were very low, the provision continues to be used to scare and intimidate individuals. He drew parallels, in this regard, to the continued use of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, even after it was held unconstitutional.
K.K. Venugopal, on behalf of the Government, suggested that appropriate guidelines to ensure that the provision is only used for its intended purpose would be enough to prevent misuse. He argued that a complete striking down of the law was unnecessary.
Justice Ramana observed that in the absence of accountability of executive agencies, enormous powers granted to the executive under Section 124A were being misused. Without any accountability, the provision will very likely be used against a much wider range of dissent than it was originally intended to curb.