“Expression of views which are different from the opinion of the government cannot be termed as seditious. It cannot become sedition only because one has a different view,” said the bench
The Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed a petition seeking action against former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah for his comments on the scrapping of Article 370 and the bifurcation of the state into two Union territories, saying it is not seditious to have views different from the government. Here is all you need to know about the matter:
• The court maintained that “dissent” is a form of free speech and expression.
• It added these rights are protected under the Constitution.
• The comments came at a time when governments and law enforcement agencies around the country have been quick to slap sedition charges against critics.
• “Expression of views which are different from the opinion of the government cannot be termed as seditious. It cannot become sedition only because one has a different view,” said the bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Justice Hemant Gupta.
• India’s sedition law was introduced by the British in 1870.
• The word “sedition” did not appear in the Constitution when it was adopted on November 26, 1949, and Article 19(1)(a) gave absolute freedom of speech and expression.
• However, section 124A stayed in the Indian Penal Code. In 1951, Jawaharlal Nehru brought in the first amendment of the Constitution to limit the freedom under Article 19(1)(a) and enacted Article 19(2) to empower the State to put curbs in the form of “reasonable restrictions” on right to free speech.
• In 1962, in Kedar Nath Singh Vs State of Bihar, a constitution bench of the top court upheld the validity of the sedition law under the IPC and also defined the scope of sedition.
• It held that Section 124A only penalised words that reveal an intent or tendency to disturb law and order or that seem to incite violence.
• This definition has been taken as a precedent for all matters pertaining to Section 124A since.
• “Just because you dissent from the views of the government, will it become sedition?” the bench asked the lawyer for the petitioners, Rajat Sharma and Neh Srivastava.
• Vadodara-based Sharma is secretary and trustee of organisation “Vishwa Guru India Vision of Sardar Patel” while Srivastava is a social activist from Uttar Pradesh’s Ghaziabad.
• The court also imposed a fine of ₹50,000 on the petitioners for filing what it termed a “frivolous” petition.
• “What kind of a petition is this? People must be penalised for filing such petitions,” said the bench after the petitioners’ counsel failed to substantiate the claim that Abdullah called for support from China and Pakistan against the negation of Article 370, which did away with the special status granted to J&K and its citizens.
• The petition cited a statement by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra as a chief ground. It relied upon some media reports to quote Patra as claiming that Abdullah had delivered a speech seeking China’s help in restoring Article 370.
• But this averment could not be corroborated by the petitioners’ lawyer Shiv Sagar Tiwary even as the bench asked repeatedly as to when and where Abdullah issued the alleged statement.
• On February 23, a Delhi court, while granting bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, raised serious questions about the Delhi Police’s invocation of the sedition charge.
• According to the data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), cases of sedition and under the stringent UAPA for terror cases showed a rise in 2019, but only 3% of the sedition cases resulted in a conviction.
• The year 2019 saw a 25% increase in the number of sedition cases and a 41% increase in arrests over the previous year. A total of 93 cases of sedition were reported in 2019, with 96 arrests and charge sheets filed in 76 cases, as against 70 cases, 56 arrests, and 27 charge sheets the previous year.
Source: Hindustan Times