The Law Commission has proposed retaining the penal provision for the offence of sedition, saying repealing it altogether can have serious adverse ramifications for the security and integrity of the country, prompting a push back by the Congress amid government assertion that the recommendations were "persuasive" and "not binding".
The Commission, chaired by Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi (retd), also suggested increase in the minimum jail term for sedition offences from the present three years to seven years, seeking to bring it in consonance with the scheme of punishment provided for other offences under Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with offences against the state.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code dealing with sedition is at present under abeyance following directions of the Supreme Court issued in May, 2022.
Amid allegations of misuse, there have been demands for repeal of the provision.
The Congress accused the BJP government of planning to make the sedition law more "draconian" and giving a message ahead of the general elections that it will be used against opposition leaders.
Union Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said the Law Commission recommendations made in its report 'Usage of the Law of Sedition' were “persuasive and not binding” and an "informed and reasoned” decision would be taken after consultation with all stakeholders.
The Commission also said that sedition being a "colonial legacy" is not a valid ground for its repeal.
It said repealing the provision on the mere basis that certain countries have done so is essentially turning a blind eye to the glaring ground realities existing in India and that it can be retained with certain safeguards to prevent its misuse.
The Commission argued that the existence of anti-terror legislation such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) does not obviate the need for the law of sedition.
In its report submitted to the government recently, the panel said cognizant of the views on the misuse of Section 124A, it recommends that model guidelines curbing them be issued by the Centre.
"In this context, it is also alternatively suggested that a provision analogous to Section 196(3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) may be incorporated as a proviso to Section 154 of CrPC, which would provide the requisite procedural safeguard before filing of a FIR with respect to an offence under Section 124A of IPC," the Commission chairman said in his covering letter to Meghwal.
The Commission also suggested changes to the phrasing of Section 124A and added words "a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder".
It said the qualifying words "tendency to incite violence" would mean "mere inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder rather than proof of actual violence or imminent threat to violence".
The law commission has now recommended to alter the Section as: "Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in lndia, with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, to which fine may be added, or with fine." While it is imperative to lay down certain procedural guidelines for curbing any misuse of Section 124A dealing with sedition by law enforcement authorities, any allegation of misuse of the provision does not by implication warrant a call for its repeal, the report said.
In its report submitted to Meghwal, the Law Commission also said the existence of laws such as Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Security Act does not by implication cover all elements of the offence envisaged under Section 124A of the IPC.
"Further, in the absence of a provision like Section 124A of IPC, any expression that incites violence against the government would invariably be tried under the special laws and counter-terror legislations, which contain much more stringent provisions to deal with the accused," the report "Usage of the Law of Sedition" said.
Addressing a press conference at the AICC headquarters here, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said, "A message of colonial mindset has been given that there will be a distance between the ruler and the ruled and through this law, the foundations of the republic will be uprooted. A message has been given ahead of the general election that we will use this in a one-sided manner particularly against opposition leaders."
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