In a historic development, the Supreme Court on Wednesday passed interim orders to refrain from registering any FIRs under the 152-year-old sedition law 124A of the Indian Penal Code should be effectively kept in abeyance till the center reconsiders the provision.
A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Hima Kohli also held that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under Section124 A be kept in abeyance.
Further, the court also held that other sections may proceed with no prejudice being caused to the accused.
Those who are already booked under section 124A IPC and are in jail can approach the concerned courts for bail. Further, if any fresh case is registered appropriate parties are at liberty to approach courts for appropriate relief, and courts are requested to examine the relief sought to take into account the order passed by the court, the court held.
The union govt expressed its stand that the colonial provision requires “re-consideration and re-examination” means that the Government has agreed with the prima facie view expressed by the Court that the “rigors of 124A IPC isn’t in tune with current social milieu, and was intended for when the country was under colonial regime”. Therefore, the Court ordered that the center may reconsider the provision.
Justice Kant pointed out that there was a subsequent development in the case and that the court was merely trying to explore a viable solution for the cases registered under the impugned Section during the interregnum.
When the Court asked the parties how many of the petitioners were in jail at present.”the petitioner in one of the cases was protected by this Court, referring to journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem” responded Senior Advocate CU Singh. “Currently there are 13,000 individuals were in jail under the impugned provision,” said Senior Counsel Sibal.
However, the SG submitted that the petition moved by Kishorechandra Wangkhem does not seek to quash the FIR, but rather to declare Section 124A unconstitutional.
Accordingly, the CJI then said that the bench had discussed elaborately and that in view of the above, it had found that the Union of India agrees with the prima facie opinion expressed by the Court that the rigours of Section 124A are not in accordance with the current social milieu.
On an earlier occasion, the court had decided to hear preliminary arguments on the issue of reference and the Central Government to file its affidavit on the issue of challenge to the validity of the law and had asked all the parties to file their written submissions on the issue.
Pursuant to the court’s order, the Solicitor General of India through his written submissions asserted before the Supreme Court that the judgement in Kedar Nath Singh is a good precedent and that it requires no consideration. He added that isolated instances of misuse cannot be a ground to uproot the precedent that has withstood the test of time for over six decades.
Meanwhile, the petitioners had filed an application seeking stay on operation of Sec 124A in event the Court decides to refer the matter to a larger Bench. As alternative relief, they sought direction that no fresh FIR be registered for the offence of Sedition under Section 124A, during the pendency of the case and that all pending investigations and proceedings remain stayed.
The issue arose in a batch of writ petitions filed by Army veteran Major-General SG Vombatkere (Retired) and the Editors Guild of India, Former Union Minister Arun Shourie, TMC MP Mahua Moitra, journalist Anil Chamadia, PUCL, journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin, and Journalist Union of Assam.
While issuing notice on the petitions in July 2021, the CJI had made orally critical remarks s against the provision.
the CJI had asked the Attorney General for India, “Is it still necessary to retain this colonial law which the British used to suppress Gandhi, Tilak etc.,
even after 75 years of independence?”.
“If we go see the history of charging of this section, the enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item, using it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree. That’s the effect of this provision”, the CJI had said.
In April 2021, another bench led by Justice UU Lalit had issued notice on a petition filed by two journalists challenging Section 124A IPC.
The directions issued by the court are as follows,
a. The interim stay granted in W.P.(Crl.)No.217/2021 along with W.P.(Crl.)No.216/2021 vide order dated 31.05.2021 shall continue to operate till further orders.
b. We hope and expect that the State and Central Governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration.
c. 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.
d. All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance. 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.
e. In addition to the above, the Union of India shall be at liberty to issue the Directive as proposed and placed before us, to the State Governments/Union Territories to prevent any misuse of Section 124A of IPC.
f. The above directions may continue till further orders are passed.