The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that consultations with stakeholders for modifying the sedition law were at “the final stages” and the matter was likely to come up before Parliament during the monsoon session.
“The government is keen on modifying the law…. The consultation process… is in the final stages and some developments can be expected in the monsoon session of Parliament,” attorney-general R. Venkatramani told the apex court.
The bench of Chief Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and Justice J.B. Pardiwala posted the next hearing to the second week of August.
Individuals including veteran journalist Arun Shourie, civil liberties organisations, the Editors Guild and others have moved petitions seeking quashing of the sedition law, alleging its misuse by governments against political opponents and critics.
The Union home ministry has told the apex court in an affidavit that jurists, academics, intellectuals and others had expressed divergent opinions in public on the sedition law, and that the government had decided “to re-examine and re-consider the provision”.
On May 11 last year, the apex court passed a landmark order staying “until further orders” all pending proceedings across the country relating to the sedition law, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
It expressed “hope” that the states and the Centre “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” of the Union government.
The bench of then Chief Justice N.V. Ramana and Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli passed the order rejecting a plea from solicitor-general Tushar Mehta not to do so.
On Monday, the matter initially came up during the pre-lunch session. As Venkatramani was not available, the Centre’s counsel, Kanu Agarwal, sought a pass-over (deferred hearing).
Justice Chandrachud then asked about the changes the government had promised during an earlier hearing. Agrawal said the government was mulling over whether the proposed changes should come with prospective or retrospective effect.
Justice Chandrachud said that if the government was unable to decide, the court might have to deal with the matter on the judicial side. The bench posted the matter for the post-lunch session, when Venkatramani appeared before the court and said the matter would come up before Parliament.
Senior advocate Arvind Datar, appearing for some of the petitioners, urged the court to refer the matter to a seven-judge constitution bench since an earlier five-judge constitution bench had in Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar upheld the constitutional validity of the British-era sedition law.
Another senior advocate, Gopal Sankaranarayan, also appearing for some petitioners, supported him. But the bench did not say anything about a seven-judge bench.
The home ministry affidavit had suggested that the apex court “may not invest time in examining the validity of Section 124A once again and be pleased to await the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the Government of India before an appropriate forum”.