NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday sprung a surprise by putting the colonial-era sedition law on hold, though its interim order did not say it in as many words. In a measured tone, the court said it would be appropriate not to continue with the usage of the sedition law across the country till the re-examination of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 is completed by the Centre.
The court directed that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under the sedition law be kept in abeyance till then. In effect, those who have been arrested under sedition charges can now seek bail. “Adjudication with respect to other sections, if any, could proceed if the courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused,” the interim order by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said.
In the interregnum, the court hoped that state and Central governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking 124A. “If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the concerned courts for appropriate relief. The courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India,” the bench said.
The court said it is cognizant of the security interests and integrity of the state on the one hand and civil liberties of citizens on the other. “There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations, which is a difficult exercise,” it said. The next hearing is scheduled for the third week of July. The interim order came after the Centre did a U-turn saying it will re-examine 124A itself, and asked the court to await the exercise before proceeding any further.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought to buy time, saying the Centre has prepared a draft for issuing directives. “We have a proposed draft. We cannot prevent police from registering a cognizable offence under the provision. It says an FIR under sedition law would be registered only if area SP or similar rank officer is satisfied with the facts of a case.
Staying a statutory provision that is upheld by a Constitution bench would not be correct,” he said. But senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the petitioners, said the proposal is not acceptable as it doesn’t solve the issue of challenge to the constitutionality of 124A.
Rijiju bristles at Rahul’s barb
The SC order triggered the usual sparring match between the BJP and the Opposition. Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju urged all wings, including the executive and the judiciary to follow the Lakshman Rekha, while labelling the Congress as the antithesis of freedom, democracy and respect for institutions. He was responding to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s barb that telling the truth is patriotism, not treason. Legal eagles hailed the order, calling it historic.