The Supreme Court has paused provision of prosecution for offence of sedition till the Parliament considers whether that provision has to be retained or has to be repealed. This order came in the wake of allegations of rampant misuse of Section 124A of IPC for silencing the dissenting voices. The order gave much awaited respite to the citizens and strengthened the democracy in the country. This archaic law was brought into statute in the year 1898 with sole intention of suppressing the Freedom Movement and was imposed against Lokmanya Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi and others. Since Independence there was demand for scrapping it but considering its benefits for the Ruling Classes, the successive Governments ignored the demand and finally Supreme Court had to step in for protection of Constitutional Rights.
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The Constitution has created three separate pillars of democracy, enjoining them with different authorities and spheres of jurisdiction. Parliament to legislate the law, Executive to implement said laws and Judiciary to review the functioning of the laws and to see that other two organs are working within constitutional limits. Recently, the Law Minister reminded about the Lakshman Rekha of these Institutions, while suspending the Sedition Law Supreme Court followed the principle and restrained from crossing the Lakshman Rekha of legislating itself and left the job for Parliament.
The main challenge to the Sedition Law was its contradiction with the Freedom of Speech guaranteed under Article 19. The Parliament now has to see that law made by it does not violate the above Freedom but at the same time has to protect the rights of other citizens, also to not to be offended by the exercise of the right of one citizen. Article 19 guarantees Right of Free Speech, it means you have the right to speak good about yourself but it does not permit you to speak bad about others. Parliament will have to make Law protecting its citizens from misuse of Freedom under the garb of Article 19.
Recent invocation of the Sedition Law if is seen, then it will become clear that it was imposed in addition to the offences of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. Law provides maximum punishment of three years to five years for this offence but Section 124A that is sedition provides for imprisonment for life, this may be the reason why law of Sedition was added to the offence of promoting enmity. In the recent past the tendency of promoting enmity on the grounds of religion, race, etc. is on rise but in absence of stringent Laws, it seems the Law of Sedition was misused. The vacuum in law is not good for any democracy and therefore, Parliament needs to act fast to fill-up this space.
Supreme Court in the year 2014 itself in case of Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan while dealing with the issue of hate speeches expected the Parliament to make laws to curb the menace of hate speeches, it also suggested that more powers be given to Election Commission to derecognise the Political Party or disqualify candidates from contesting elections, if, he indulges into hate speeches. Further, in the year 2018 while dealing with the cases of mob lynching, again the Supreme Court reminded duty of Parliament of making Law for protection of citizens from mobocracy in the case of Tehseen Poonawalla, unfortunately, no such law has even been discussed in the Parliament.
Parliament has to act for updating laws as per the need of time and also considering the requirements of the future. It is the duty of Parliament and State Legislatures to regularly review working of Laws, their updation or repeal, unfortunately, this exercise is not being undertaken and the precious time of Legislative Bodies are being occupied by something else leaving the citizens at the mercy of Executive.
We must not forget that on one hand Constitution protects the Right of Free Speech but on the other expects Indians to fulfil their Fundamental Duties of promoting harmony and spirit of common brotherhood in addition to protecting integrity of India. While repealing Sedition Law, the Parliament must enact a law providing stringent punishment for violation of Fundamental Duties enshrined in the Constitution, especially when one indulges into hate speeches and damages the integrity of India. The Supreme Court has performed its duty now it is time for the Parliament to fulfil its Constitutional obligation.
Firdos Mirza, Advocate,
Nagpur Bench of Bombay High Court