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Freedom of speech & sedition law in India : An analysis in the light of recent controversy

The definition of sedition must be narrowed down to encompass only the problems pertaining to the territorial integrity of India, in addition to the sovereignty of the country. The word ‘sedition’ is extraordinarily nuanced and needs to be implemented with caution. It should rarely be used but kept by and large as a deterrent.

Raju Kumar

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INTRODUCTION

It is an irony for the mostdemocratic nation, ie, India, where freedom of speech and expression has been granted under the Indian Constitu- tion, and while exercising their power enshrined un- der the Constitution of India. they are being booked for the offence of sedition. Accord ing to the report of Rights and Risks Analysis Group, as many as 55 journalists were targeted by the government during 25 March and 31 May for covering facts about the government handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Recently, the Supreme Court of India has quashed the sedition case registered against senior journalist Vinod Dua in Himachal Pradesh. The verdict was pronounced by a single judge bench led by Hon’ble Justice UU. Lalit.

Vinod Dua was booked for sedition for criticising the Narendra Modi government’s handling of the Covid-19 lock down and had uploaded the same on Youtube last year, While granting the relief the court relied on the principles laid down in the Judgment of Kedar Nath. The judg ment was delivered in the year 1962, where the consti- tutional validity of sedition law in India was validated. However, it was observed that free speech, discussions on matters of government functioning and their criti cism, and freedom of press are “essential for the proper functioning of the processes of popular government Currently, in the Vinod Dua case, the Hon’ble Court has also observed that the jour nalist will be entitled to pro tection under the judgment”.

It was further observed that “It must, however, beclarified that every Journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh, as every prosecution under Sections 124 and 505 of the IPC must be in strict conformity with the scope and ambit of said Sections as explained in, and completely in tune with the law laid down in Kedar Nath Singh”. The Court Held that

HISTORICAL

BACKGROUND OF SEDITION LAW

Sedition laws were enacted during 17th century England, when the lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive as the criticism of a Govern- ment may result in detri- mental to the government and monarchy. The law was originally drafted in 1837 by the father of the Indian Penal Code, Thomas Macaulay, but it was omitted when the In- dian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in the year 1860.

Many freedom fighters were charged under this provision which includes the case of Joggendra Chandra Bose, who was the editor of the newspaper, Bangbosi, who wrote an article criticis ing the age of consent Bill for posing a threat to the religion and for its coercive relation ship with Indians.

Great freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi were also booked under this offense.

SEDITION LAW IN INDIA: CURRENT SCENARIO

Sedition is an offense under Sectio 124A of the Indian Penal Code (Hereinafter re- ferred to as IPC), 1860. See tion 124A IPC, defines the offense sedition when “any person by words, either spo- kenorwritten, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or con- tempt, or excites or attempts toexcite disaffection towards the government established by law in India”. Disaffection also includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. How ever, it is here notable that comments without exciting or attempting to excite ha tred, contempt or disaffee tion, will not constitute an offense under this section.

PUNISHMENT FOR SEDITION

Sedition is a non-bailable offense. Punishment un der Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term. to which fine may be added. It is also notable that if a person is charged under this law, he will be barred from a govern ment Job. They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in
constitutional. Furthermore, it was also held that the dis turbing the public order will mean nothing less than en dangering the foundations of the Stateor threatening its overthrow: These Judgments prompted the First Constitu tion Amendment, where Ar ticle 19 (2) was rewritten to replace “undermining the security of the State” with “in the interest of public order”. In the year 1962, in the historic judgment of Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar. the supreme court decided on the constitutionality of See tion 124A. The Hon’ble court upheld the constitutionality of sedition, but had limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency tore ate disorder,ordisturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence”. Itdistinguished these from “very strong speech” or the use of “vigor ous words” strongly critical of the government.

In the year 1965, the Su preme Court, in the judgment of Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab, held that mere slo ganeering which evoked no public response did not amount to sedition.

ARGUMENTS FOR SECTION 124A

The Provision of Sedition law has its application in fighting anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements. It is argued withinside the fa- vour of this law that, it pro tects the elected government from tries to overthrow the authorities with violence and unlawful means. The continued existence of the government set up through regulation is an important circumstance of the stability of the State. Furthermore, it is also believed that if Contempt of court results in the penal action, the contempt of Gov ernment should also attract
the same.

ARGUMENTS AGAINST SECTION 124A

The Provision of Sedition Law isarelic of colonial lega cyand it is not fit for democra- ey This is a restriction on the legal exercise of the freedom of speech guaranteed by the Constitution. Government disagreements and criti cisms are an important part of healthy public debate in dynamie democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition. It is notable that The British who resisted the suppression of the Indians overturned their countrys laws. India has no reason not to abolish this part and
the time has come to amend this portion. It is also argued against this law that the terms usedunder Section 124A like disaffection are vague and subject to different interpre- tations to the whims and fan- cies of the investigating offi- cers. The sedition law isbeing misused as a tool to persecute political dissent. A wide and concentrated executive dis- cretion is inbuilt into it which permits the blatant abuse.

CONCLUSION AND WAY FORWARD

Dr Justice (Retd.) Balbir Singh Chouhan has observed that “The sedition law needs reconsideration”. Since the creation of this British Sedition Law, its application has always been inconsistent. In all cases, its application is vague and self-contradictory. Considering that it is used to suppress the masses, when it serves the masses, its application was initially vague. It is used as a tool to strengthen political motivations by preventing speeches that threaten the authority of the country. A clear and unam- biguous explanation of the crime. In recent years, the ap- plication of the sedition law has been too arbitrary and has become a controversial topic. Although our sedition position was established in 1960, it still exists. Over the past 50 years, Indian society has developed rapidly, and people have shown “toler ance” towards summons and violence. The nature of the government has also changed, and people’s under- standing of the government is different from that of its representatives.

India is the largest de- mocracy of the world and the right to free speech and expression is a vital aspect of democracy. The expres- sion or thought that isn’t in consonance with the policy

Freedom of speech & sedition kew in India: An analysis in the light of recent controversy

of the government of the day must now no longer be taken into consideration as sedition. Section 124A mus now no longer be misused as a device to scale down loose speech. The SC caveat, giver in Kedar Nath case, on pros ecution beneathneath the regulation can test its misuse It needs to be tested under the modified facts and situation: 1 additionally at the anvi of ever-evolving tests of ne cessity, proportionality and arbitrariness. The higher judiciary must use its super visory powers to sensitize the magistracy and police to the constitutional provision: protective free speech. The definition of sedition mus be narrowed down, to en compass only the problem: pertaining to the territoria integrity of India in addi tion to the sovereignty of the country. The word ‘sedition is extraordinarily nuancec and needs to be implement ed with caution. It is sort of a cannon that ought now no longer for use to shoot a mouse; however the arsena additionally needs posses sion of cannons, by and larg as a deterrent, and sometimes for shooting.

India is the largest democracy of the world and the right to free speech and expression
is a vital aspect of democracy. The expression or thought that isn’t in consonance
with the policy of the government of the day must now no longer be taken into
consideration as sedition. Section 124A must now no longer be misused as a device
to scale down loose speech. The SC caveat, given in the Kedarnath case, can test its
misuse. It needs to be tested under the modified facts and situations and additionally
at the anvil of ever-evolving tests of necessity, proportionality and arbitrariness.

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Policy & Politics

INDIA TO ADD 50 FRESH UNICORNS IN 2022: STUDY

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In India more than 50 startups have the potential of entering the unicorn club in 2022 as showcased in a new study. This will take the total tally of India to well over 100 startup unicorns(those well valued over $1 billion each). The year 2022 has shaped up nicely to become a matrix and a petri-dish of startups and with each success the chances of others joining them becomes well over-precedent. The growth of startups can be attributed to various national economic policies and the ease of doing business norms. The shopping capabilities and buying parameters of the people also has to do a lot with this, the report by a consultancy firm suggested.

Amit Nawka, partner(deals and startup leader) in PwC India, which conducted the study said that, “ We can say that the base of these companies in growth stage and late-stage deals have improved have improved significantly in the calendar year 2021, depicting a stronger base of companies having the potential to reach the unicorn status. With market sentiments favourably inclined towards startups, and the large base of scaled startup companies at the end of CY21, we expect the startup’ unicorn tally to go well beyond 100 by the end of 2022.” Over $10 billion was invested in the Indian startup ecosystem in the October-December quarter alone, according to the report.

81 is the total number of startups in India as of now with a total valuation of 4274 billion. Of these 44 unicorns with a total valuation of $89 billion were born last year, shows data from Invest India, the national investment promotion agency. The PwC report shows that in the fourth quarter, startup funding crossed the $10 billion mark.

If we talk about categorisation, Fintech startups raised nearly four times more funds last year as compared to the previous year. Edtech followed closely with a growth of 86% compared to $2.2 billion raised in 2020. Software as a service came in a close third. Growth and late-stage deals comprised around 85% of the total funding. Among the most persistent and active investors were Sequoia Capital, Accel and Tiger Global. A December 2021 report by the Hurun Research Institute had mentioned that India is the third largest home for unicorns globally but trails the US and China by a wide margin.

Bengaluru and the Nation Capital Region witnessed nearly three-fourth of the total funding by venture capital and private equity funds, the report said. In its list of 50 potential unicorns it placed companies like Khatabook, Whatfix, Practo, Ninjacart, Inshorts, Pepperfry as among the candidates because of their history of having raised over USD 100 million to date.

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Policy & Politics

Effect of high rated fuel on country’s economy

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High fuel taxes combined with a recovery in international crude oil rates has affected millions of people, slowing down the recovery of the country. The price of petrol and diesel hits a new record everyday. In Mumbai, petrol can be bought at Rs 109.98 per litre and diesel costs Rs 94.14 for one litre as on 18th January.

Experts have warned that rising fuel rates could severely derail India’s economy, which is already under pressure due to the impact of the second Covid-19 wave. High petrol and diesel prices have not only impacted vehicle owners, but also people who do not own a car. Rising fuel prices have resulted in a sharp rise in retail inflation, making a host of essential commodities and services costlier for citizens.

Elevated tax levels are playing a major role in the current record high prices in India. The central government had last year increased levies on petrol by Rs 14 per litre and on diesel by Rs 16 per litre to shore up revenues as the pandemic forced a sharp slowdown in the economic activity. Central and state taxes currently account for about 53.5 per cent of the pump price of petrol and about 47.6 per cent of the pump price of diesel in Mumbai

The rising crude oil prices, and the higher taxation impact, have also contributed to the prices of petrol and diesel regularly setting new record highs across the country in 2021. Petrol in nation’s capital is priced at Rs 95.41 per litre while diesel in the national capital is retailing at Rs 86.67 per litre. India has seen a faster recovery in the consumption of petrol than of diesel after pandemic-related restrictions with petrol consumption up 9 per cent in September compared to the year ago period but diesel consumption remaining 6.5 per cent below 2020 levels. Diesel accounts for about 38 per cent of petroleum product consumption in India and is a key fuel used in industry and agriculture.

India has long pushed for Middle eastern countries to remove the Asian premium that Asian countries have to pay for crude oil as key oil producers set higher prices for India than for the US and European countries. Despite a 40 cent per barrel cut in the official selling price of light crude to Asia, Saudi Arabia is still charging a $1.30 premium on the benchmark price for light crude sold to India compared to a $2.4 discount on the benchmark price for European customers.

Experts have noted that countries like India do not have much bargaining power in the current market scenario where supply is lower than demand and that India’s bargaining power may be reduced further if we try to further diversify crude oil procurement. Also, the level of output and pricing benchmarks are decided by cartels such as OPEC.

So, Experts believe that the government should cut excise duty to some extent as it will provide some relief to customers and lead to higher sales and revenues which will accelerate the economy. But economic recovery will become tricky if the government continues to ignore rising fuel prices. If the commodity becomes too expensive, it would see a sharp decline in revenue.

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India-born top the list of founders among US unicorns: Study

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It is not only in India but in the US too that Indian founders are creating unicorns.

A study by Professor of Finance at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, Ilya A. Strebulaev researched that 90 out of 1,078 founders and entrepreneurs across 500 US unicorns were born in India which signalled a significant presence of Indian-Americans in the country’s startup and tech economy. He tweeted that, “Over four out of ten unicorn founders are first gen immigrants”. Indian born founders were followed by the ones from Israel and Canada with 52 and 42 founders respectively.

Some of the Indian origin founders of prominent unicorns include: Rohan Seth of Clubhouse, Baiju Bhatt of Robinhood, Dheeraj Pandey, Mohit Aron, Ajeet Singh of Nutanix, Apoorv Mehta of Instacart, Aayush Phumbhra of Chegg, among many others.

The research undertaken by Strebulaev is ripe at the time when India based technology want to return back home. Indian immigrants in the US are increasingly leaving their American dream behind because of visa issues and also because of the allure of a thriving startup culture in the home country. America has had a history of extremely successful Indian-origin entrepreneurs including Kanwal Rekhi, Pramod Haque, Sanjay Malhotra among others. India born executives are not only fueling the startups of the US but they are the executives of the most powerful tech giants.

U.S based Kaufman Foundation 33.2% of the co-founders of technology and engineering founded by immigrants in the US were Indians. Kaufman Foundation found out that Indian immigrant contribution in tech and startup industry was the only one that increased, all other immigrant contributions saw a decline. Another finding showed that 33 of the top 50 AI companies have at least one first generation immigrant founder. And 53 of the 125 founders are first generation immigrants. India and Israel were the largest senders of immigrant AI founders followed by the UK, China and Portugal.

India has a vibrant and an ever growing startup ecosystem. A recent report by venture capital fund Orios Venture Partners said Indian startups raised $42 Billion in 2021 up from $11.5 Billion in the previous year. The newly minted unicorns include ShareChat, Cred, Meesho, Moglix, MPL, Grofers(now blinkit), upGrad, Mamaearth, Acko, Spinny and others. India with 90 unicorns is the third largest unicorn hub behind the US(487) and China(301) and ahead of the UK(39). According to the report Flipkart was the most valuable unicorn($37.6 Billion).

India has seen four decacorns(companies with a valuation of USD 10 billion and above) so far- Flipkart, Paytm, BYJU’s and Oyo Rooms. While Bengaluru was the ‘Unicorn Hub’ with 18 unicorns emerging from the city in 2021 and 35 in all. It also happens to be the seventh largest unicorn city in the world.

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KARNATAKA’S ROLE IN BUILDING A $5 TRILLION ECONOMY WILL BE SIGNIFICANTLY LARGER, CHIEF MINISTER BOMMAI

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Karnataka is expected to play a significant part in the economy of the country in the future. The state is home to 13,000 of the country’s 54,000 startups. The Karnataka government has taken a number of steps to stimulate the formation of new businesses. The government is providing guidance and scientific support, according to Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai.

In an online message on the occasion of ‘National Startup Day’ on Sunday, the Chief Minister stated that the notion of a New Karnataka for a New India would be realized. In accordance with the Prime Minister’s wishes, the state has commemorated Startup Day in a meaningful way. The state government will give a major boost to startups, innovation, scientific thinking, and entrepreneurship in the coming days, he added. “Thanks to the Prime Minister’s long-term goal, the number of startups, which was once about 500, has already surpassed 54,000.” He has given a tremendous boost to innovation and entrepreneurs by establishing a forum to assist them and free them from government limitations. “On behalf of the state’s youth, the Prime Minister has been the inspiration for the biggest development of startups in the state,” Bommai added, thanking the Prime Minister.

Bengaluru is home to around 180 science and research institutions in a variety of sectors.

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‘WEALTH OF 10 RICHEST INDIANS ENOUGH TO FUND HIGHER EDUCATION OF CHILDREN’

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DA hike

According to a new study, it has been found that the wealth of the 10 richest Indians is enough to fund school and higher education of children for over two decades (approx. 25 years). When most of the country was gripped by the Covid-19 pandemic, the combined fortunes of the Indian billionaires more than doubled during this period. The superrich count in the country has now shot up to 142, rising by 39 per cent.

The annual wealth inequality survey reported presented by Oxfam India at the Davos Agenda Summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF) said that an additional one per cent tax on the richest 10 per cent can provide nearly 17.7 lakh extra oxygen cylinders to the country. None of us can forget how there was a huge rush for oxygen cylinders and insurance claims during the second wave that struck last year.

On the other hand, a similar wealth tax on the 98 most-affluent families can finance Ayushman Bharat – world’s largest health insurance scheme, for more than seven years.

The report further finds that 142 Indian billionaires together own a wealth of $719 billion (over Rs 53 lakh crore). The richest 98 amongst them have the same wealth ($657 billion or nearly Rs 49 lakh crore) as the poorest 55.5 crore populace who are placed in the bottom 40 per cent.

It was found that if all of the top 10 richest Indians go on to spend $1 million every day, then it will take them 84 years to do away with their current wealth.

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Exports target of US$650 bn within the current financial year achievable: Piyush Goyal

‘$400 Bn target of Merchandise exports is within sight and the Services sector should strive for $250 Bn exports.’

Tarun Nangia

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Piyush Goyal

The Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution and Textiles, Piyush Goyaltoday said the exports target of USD 650 Billion within the current financial year is achievable. Chairing a Review Meeting of all major Export Promotion Councils (EPCs), Goyal said the $400 Bn target of Merchandise exports is within sight and the Services sector should strive for $250 Bnexports.

Expressing his satisfaction that India achieved $300 BnMerchandise exports in the first nine months of the current FY (April-Dec, 2022), Goyal assured the EPCs that his Ministry will do whatever it takes in handholding the EPCs and resolving their issues to attain even higher export targets in the next FY.

Shri Goyal said we can set a much higher goods exports target in the current last quarter of this FY. “In December alone we touched $37 Bn goods exports despite the Omicron fear factor weighing high. This month, in 15 days till January 15th, we have reached $16 Bn.”

oyal said the Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi has himself set the pace by setting “transformational results” and not “incremental growth”.

The Commerce & Industry Minister urged the EPCs and entrepreneurs to avail of the Government’s initiatives towards Ease of Doing Business such as obtaining clearances through the National Single Window System. He assured the Industry representatives to pursue their demands during the various FTA negotiations.

Speaking of the government’s efforts to improve the ease of living and the ease of doing business, Goyal said that more than 25,000 compliances have been reduced.

“In December alone we touched $37 Bn goods exports despite the Omicron fear factor weighing high” – Piyush Goyal

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