Reminder on sedition limit

The Supreme Court today asked all authorities to stick to the guidelines laid down by a Constitution bench 54 years ago while invoking the sedition law.

By R. Balaji
  • Published 6.09.16
  •  

New Delhi, Sept. 5: The Supreme Court today asked all authorities to stick to the guidelines laid down by a Constitution bench 54 years ago while invoking the sedition law.

The five-judge bench had ruled in 1962 that the sedition law could be activated only if "violence and public disorder" had been incited.

The directive today came against a backdrop of complaints that sedition cases were being filed indiscriminately to crush dissent and diverse opinions.

The bench of Justices Dipak Misra and U.U. Lalit reminded the authorities of the 1962 order (in Kedar Nath vs State of Bihar) but declined to issue a general directive to the directors-general of police of all the states and Union territories to vet all sedition cases before registering an FIR.

"We are of the considered opinion that the authorities, while dealing with the offences under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (which deals with sedition), shall be guided by the principles laid down by the Constitution bench. Except saying so, we do not intend to deal with any other issue as we are of the considered opinion that it is not necessary to do so," Justice Misra said.

Common Cause, an NGO, and anti-nuclear activist S.P. Uday Kumar had moved the top court seeking safeguards and guidelines to prevent the sedition law's misuse. The petition said that 58 persons were arrested and 47 cases of sedition booked in the country in 2014.

Some of the key observations in the 1962 apex court order:

Any written or spoken words that have implicit in them the idea of subverting the government by violent means will be punishable.

•  But strong words used to express disapprobation (strong disapproval) of government measures, with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means, would not come within the section.

•  Comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of the actions of the government without exciting those feelings that generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence will not be penal.

•  Disloyalty to the government is not the same thing as commenting in strong terms on the measures or acts of the government or its agencies so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means.

•  Freedom has to be guarded against becoming a licence for vilification and condemnation of the government established by law in words that incite violence or have the tendency to create public disorder.

A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the government or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.