Reading In between the lines : Analysing the law Commission report on sedition


In its 279th Report, the Law Commission of India has advocated the anamnesis, of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which contains the Law of Sedition. Section 124-A defines law of sedetion as attempts to excite disaffection against the Government established by law’.
The provision has been widely criticised for being a tool for curbing dissent It has also recommended to enhanced punishment for this offence form three years to the minimum of
seven years in the name of national security. The report comes a year after the Supreme Court ordered a halt on all proceedings and registering of fresh cases. The SC had granted the Union time to re-examine the law and reconsider its application, in S.G. Vombatkere v
Union of India
There are two schools of thought, especially, the one that asks seeking the repeal of the aforementioned Section on the grounds because it is no longer necessary and fails to upholding the "Freedom of Speech and Expression" provided by the Constitution. In contrast, opposing School contends that there is no such thing as a right that cannot be subjected to reasonable limitations, and that freedom of expression is no exception. The conflict  of disparigements stems from Section 124A, which criminalises "sedition," nd Article 19[1][a] of the Constitution, which protects the right to free speech and expression. A Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Section 124A was intra-vires in the instance of Kedar Nath Singh.
Tracing down the sedetion form the Past
The Indian Penal Code (hereinrefer as I.P.C.), got in flash in 1860, but 124A did not make into until 1870 at that time it was the law against the exciting disaffection . The possibly of Induction is to , counter the surging Wahabi uprising in the subcontinent. It is, however, to be noted that section 124A has been changed significantly through an amendment to Act 4 of
1898 to incorporate judicial interpretations and clumation of the various judgement which was 1870 to 1898. By this amendment, the word ‘sedition’ was introduced for the very first time in the marginal heading, not in the content of the provisions. This amendment was twofold – Firstly, apart from exciting disaffection ‘feeling of hatred or contempt’ was inserted
and disaffection was made to include ‘disloyalty’ as well. Secondly, the single explanation is split into three explanations to define the scope of permissible ‘disapprobation’ of a political/legislative measure.. Disapprobation was allowed if it is made to obtain the redijijingby lawful means or in any mean without exciting or attempting to excite disaffection, hatred, or contempt towards the government of the day.
Judical Interpreteation of sedetion Pre-constitutional era Queen Empress v. Jogendra Chander Bosepopularly known as Bangobasi case was first in
India regarding Section 124A ; accused was charged with sedition for criticizing age of Consent Bill and the negative economic impact of British colonialism. directing the jury; the Court distinguished sedition as was understood under Law of England at that time, from
section the offense stipulated under Section 124A IPC was milder, as in England any overt act in consequence of a seditious feeling was penalized, however, in India only those acts that were done to resist by force or an attempt to excite resistance by force‘ fell under this section.
Mr. Justice Strachery in Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak interpreted the term “feelings of disaffection” meant hatred, enmity, dislike, hostility, contempt, and every form of ill will towards the government.The scope of section 124A got expanded by equating “disaffection” to “disloyalty.” The interpretation given in Tilak’s case was the law until the decision Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v. King Emperor when Chief Justice Gwyer adopted a sort of liberal approach, which ultimately lead not merely to disaffection from the government but also to‘public disorder’. Only if it also leads to public disorder one person can be booked under the sedition. above interpretation given by the Federal Court was overruled by the Privy Council in Sadashiva Narayan Bhalerao.. The plain language of the section nowhere says ‘public order’ and ‘violence’. Therefore mere ‘disaffection toward the government of the day was good enough.
Post Constitutional Observation : Kedar Nath Jurisprudence
Section 124A became a contentious issue after the Constitution was passed, according to numerous High Courts. In Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State, the Punjab High Court ruled that paragraph 124A of the IPC is arbitrary because it violates the freedom of thinking and speaking that is protected by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. There have been several High Court rulings that disagreed with one another. The case of Kedar Nath Singh v. the
State of Bihar led to a challenge to the constitutionality of section 124A IPC. Section 124A was maintained on a distinct pedestal by the Constitution Bench, which supported its constitutionality. The expressions "the Government established by law" and "the persons for
the time assisting in carrying on the administration" re distinguished by the Court.The court after considering an entire gamut of laws and judgments, ultimately, said if we read a
particular provision in a particular way as the Federal Court read it, namely, so long as the disaffection to the government is accompanied by an attempted incitement to violence or to create public disorder, it would be attracted. By distinguishing between the Government and the State in this ruling, the court recognises the power of the "State" to protect itself. So, when we propose revocation, we effectively say that the State or India cannot use their right to self-preservation.The case has limited the section 124A's applicability to acts or attempts
that threaten public order or are violently provocative. This indicates that in order to prove a
crime under Section 124A, a higher standard of proof is required. Analysis of subsequent instances reveals that courts were meticulous in condemning the defendants under Section 124A after Kedar Nath. Law Comission Recomendeation
1) Subsuming the Kedar Nath Judgement
According to the Law Commission report, Section 124A has to be amended to reflect the main points of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar (1962). Kedar Nath affirmed the validity of the Sedition Law by arguing the legislation complies with the'reasonable constraints' on free
expression outlined in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The Court concluded that the act of sedition can be proven whenever words or deeds have the potential to stir up violence or public disruption. The study claims, nevertheless that Section 124A's existing wording fails to adequately define the meaning of these activities, leading to its ambiguous interpretation.
2) Installing a New Procedural ‘Safeguard’
To stop the 'alleged abuse' of the law, the Committee suggests significant procedural changes be made to the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC). It implies that a police officer with the level of Inspector or higher needs to do an initial investigation without filing the First Information Report (FIR). The Central Government will then decide whether or not to permit the filing of a FIR in light of the investigation report's conclusions. Section 154 of the CrPC will be changed as a result of this change. The Law Commission emphasises that this suggestion was developed when the Supreme Court's findings in S.G. Vombatkere about potential legal abuse were taken into account.
3) Increasing the term of punishment
The Commission suggests increasing the sentence to seven years in jail or life in addition to a fine. Currently, the penalty is either a three-year sentence or a life sentence in jail. Due to a contradiction with additional provisions in Chapter VI of the IPC, which includes "Offences against the State," the study labels this sentence as "odd." You may find Section 124A here.
This contradiction is addressed in the report by harmonising Section 124A's penalty with other Chapter VI laws.
4) Inserting New Words in the Provision
The phrase "tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder" should be added to the clause, according to the report. In contrast to evidence of actual violence or a present danger of violence, it defines "tendency" as a "inclination to incite violence or public disorder." Thus, if 'inclination' is established, the outcome of an action won't be taken into account. The Report emphasises that Kedar Nath proved that sedition is a crime that may be proven without evidence of violence. Instead, the Judgement focuses mostly on the propensity of the words or deeds to stir up conflict or disrupt the peace.
Rationle behind backing
The law commission justifies its backing with its following five points The threat posed by extremist, anti-national, and separatist groups must be eliminated in order to safeguard national security. They said that the rise of social media has contributed to the spread of radical ideas opposing India, which are frequently encouraged and enabled by "adversarial foreign powers." The Indian Constitution's Article 19(1)(a) defines it as a "reasonable restriction" on the basic freedom to speech and expression. They claimed that sedition legislation applies to the prohibitions on "public order" including "incitement to an offence." The 'conventional punitive system' is used to deal with the terrorist issue. It contends that the
mere existence of other anti-terrorism and security legislation, such as the National Security Act of 1980 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967, is insufficient justification for the repeal of the sedition statute. According to the study, without the sedition legislation,
those who engage in seditious activity may be charged under other statutes, which frequently have greater penalties.
According to the Report, in the context of India's contemporary democracy, the "colonial legacy" is not a compelling enough justification for overturning the legislation. It draws attention to the fact that other colonial legacies, such as the Police Forces and the All India Civil Services, are still in place today without any protest.
The Report emphasises that additional laws addressing seditious actions have been included inside treason and counterterrorism statutes in nations wherein seditious laws has gone overturned.
The Court's protracted hand-wringing over the sedition crime has drawn a great deal of criticism. Many critics have previously stated that it is counterproductive for the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act 1967 to remain in effect when sedition is declared to be unlawful.
Even though the state now has more advanced and flashier means of repression, this Report suggests that it has a persistent unwillingness to repeal a legislation that has the intended effect of stifling dissent. The Report, however, is the result of a pretty one-sided perspective of India's free speech laws; it misrepresents the most significant judicial ruling on the validity
of sedition and acts as though there hasn't been any subsequent jurisprudential growth.