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Supreme Court puts sedition law on hold till review

A bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, noted petitioners’ contention that this provision of law dates back to 1898, and pre-dates the Constitution itself, and is being misused

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it is cognisant of the integrity of the State on one hand, and the civil liberties of citizens on the other, as it put on hold the colonial-era penal provision of sedition.

It also asked the Centre and State governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the sedition provision, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, till review of the law by Centre is complete. A bench, headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana and comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, noted petitioners' contention that this provision of law dates back to 1898, and pre-dates the Constitution itself, and is being misused. It also considered Attorney General KK Venugopal's submissions citing glaring misuse of this provision, like in the case of recital of the Hanuman Chalisa (by Rana couple in Maharashtra).

The bench said that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance.

"Adjudication with respect to other sections, if any, could proceed if the courts are of the opinion that no prejudice would be caused to the accused," it added.

The Union Ministry of Home Affairs, in an affidavit, had said the top court may not invest time examining the validity of Section 124A once again, and rather wait for the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the government before an appropriate forum where such reconsideration is constitutionally permitted.

The bench noted that it is cognisant of security interests and integrity of the State on one hand, and the civil liberties of citizens on the other. "There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations, which is a difficult exercise.

"Therefore, we expect that, till the re-examination of the provision is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the governments."

In the interest of justice, the bench said: "We hope and expect that the state and Central governments will restrain from registering any FIR, continuing any investigation or taking any coercive measures by invoking Section 124A of IPC while the aforesaid provision of law is under consideration."

It added that if any fresh case is registered under Section 124A of IPC, the affected parties are at liberty to approach the courts concerned for appropriate relief.

"The courts are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into account the present order passed as well as the clear stand taken by the Union of India," said the bench. It said the Centre will be at liberty to issue the directive to the state governments/UTs to prevent any misuse of Section 124A of IPC, and the above directions may continue till further orders are passed.

The top court has scheduled the matter for further listing in the third week of July. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, contended that the interpretation of the top court's judgment in Vinod Dua v. Union of India (2021), ought to be scrupulously followed and adhered to.

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