In a major decision that is being applauded among citizens, Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that draconian sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code should effectively be kept in abeyance till the Union government is reconsidering the provision.
The bench has urged the Centre and State governments to refrain from registering FIRs under Section 124A till the time it is under review.
The special bench comprising Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli held that all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under Section 124A should be kept in abeyance.
The bench added that adjudication on other sections invoked in these cases can continue as normal with no prejudice against the accused.
“We hope and expect Centre and State Governments will refrain from registering any FIR, continuing investigation, or taking coercive steps under Section 124 A IPC when it is under reconsideration. It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further reexamination is over,” the special bench said.
For those who are already in jail, the bench suggested approaching the concerned courts for bail. 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 apex court stated.
The court issued orders considering the Centre Government’s submission that 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 rigours of 124A IPC isn’t in tune with current social milieu and was intended for when the country was under colonial regime.
The court added, “The court is cognizant of the duty of the State on one hand and citizens’ civil liberties on the other. There is a requirement of balance of consideration. The case of the petitioner is that this provision of law dated back to 1870 and is being misused. The Attorney General had also given instances of glaring misuse like cases registered for recital of Hanuman Chalisa.”
On Tuesday, the court has agreed to defer the hearing till the provision is under review if the govt could clarify the protocol for handling pending and future cases till its completion.
The petitioner has argued that if an adjournment was indeed granted, how the interests of people who are already booked under Section 124A can be protected and if future cases can be kept in abeyance till reconsideration is over.
Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta told the court that a proposed draft direction has been prepared to be issued by the Centre keeping in mind that a cognizable offence cannot be prevented from being registered. Once a cognizable offence was committed, it may not be proper to stay the effect of the provision either by the Centre or the Court. Therefore, the draft suggests selecting a responsible officer at the level of Superintendent of Police for scrutiny before registering FIR, and his satisfaction is subject to judicial review, he added.
He further stated that they are not sure about the gravity of the offences committed by the accused as there may be a terror angle or money laundering angle. SG Mehta added that the pending cases were before judicial forums and we need to trust the courts.
“What your lordships can consider is, if there is a stage of bail application involving Section 124A IPC, the bail applications may be decided expeditiously,” he said.
SG contended that it may not be the correct approach to pass any other order to stay the provisions upheld by a Constitutional bench in any other cases.
He went on to add that no individual accused under the impugned Section was before the Court in this case.
However, senior advocate Kapil Sibal objected to his proposal and considered it totally unacceptable.
To the government’s suggestion to scrutinize the FIR under Sedition law, Sibal argued that the FIR should not go for scrutiny to anybody and it should be stayed at the first instance itself during the interregnum period.
The bench asked the parties about the number of people who were in jail under Sedition law.
To which senior advocate CU Singh mentioned the name of journalist Kishorechandra Wangkhem who was protected by the top court. I am pointing this out because Solicitor said that no accused are before the Court, he said.
Advocate Sibal submitted that over 13000 individuals were in jail under this impugned provision.