Why keep colonial sedition law used against Gandhi, Tilak, asks SC

Thursday 22nd July 2021 04:25 EDT

The Supreme Court last week sought the Centre's views on whether the British-era sedition provision Section124A in the Indian Penal Code, used to punish freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak to quell dissent and protest, should be retained even when there is continued evidence of its misuse by police without any accountability right till current times.

Importantly, the Centre appeared to be on the same page with the SC when attorney general K K Venugopal said the court can lay down guidelines restricting the use of Section 124A in addition to the broad parameters provided by the court in a five-decade-old judgment in the Kedar Nath case as to what constituted "sedition".

Solicitor general Tushar Mehta said, “The court will find that most of its apprehensions are addressed when the Centre files its response to the PIL.” A bench of Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy said it was of the opinion that the sedition law should be used only for protection of the nation, its security and institutions of importance in a democracy. However, the sedition law, enacted by the British to subjugate the people of India, had been grossly misused since Independence for the last 75 years, much in a similar way to quell dissent.

Don’t use anti-terror law to quell dissent

Underlining the role of the Supreme Court as a “counter-majoritarian institution” to protect the socio-economic rights of people, particularly minorities, Justice D Y Chandrachud has said that criminal laws should not be misused to silence dissent and harass citizens. The Supreme Court judge also justified the court’s intervention in the Covid vaccination policy. He said the court prima facie found fault in the policy of the Centre for being discriminatory and it could not stand as a “silent spectator” in a humanitarian crisis. He said the court adopted a “bounded deliberative approach” and the policy was changed for the betterment for the citizens.

"The criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or for harassment of citizens. As I noted in Arnab Goswami v State of Maharashtra and others, our courts must ensure they continue to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens,” the Supreme Court judge said.

“Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one too many. We must always be mindful of the deeper systemic implications of our decisions,” Justice Chandrachud said while speaking at the Indo-US Joint Summer Conference on legal ties.

Justice Chandrachud, who has passed various judgments to protect personal liberty and freedom, referred to orders by the apex court to protect the rights of the poor and marginalised sections during the Covid pandemic and how the SC's intervention led to change in vaccination policy of the Centre.

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