A three-judge Bench of Justices UU Lalit, Indira Banerjee and KM Joseph issued notice to the central government on a plea by two journalists – Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha from Manipur and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla from Chhattisgarh – challenging Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code that penalises sedition. The petitioners said they were charged with sedition for questioning the state governments and the Centre, and for certain comments and cartoons they shared on social media platforms. They contended that the provision infringes upon the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
The petitioners argued that the law has been frequently misused since 1962, when it was first introduced. And while “abuse of a law” in itself does not bear on the validity of that law, it does point to “the vagueness and uncertainty” of the provisions, they said.
The sedition law is outdated and serves no purpose in today’s society, the plea argued. Referring to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold its validity in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962, the petitioners said that while the court may have been correct in its finding nearly six decades ago, the law no longer passes constitutional muster today.
In the Kedar Nath judgement, the Supreme Court had held that Section 124A was constitutional since it imposed a reasonable restriction on Article 19(1)(a).
The plea submitted that in 1962 there may have been a need to use Section 124A as a means to prevent the public violence and public disorder that fell short of waging war against the state. “Section 124-A, was, at the time a necessary tool in crime control,” it added. “But that is not the case in 2021.”
Section 124A of the IPC states, “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the government established by law in shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”