New Delhi: The Supreme Court has ordered the government to respond by tomorrow on whether the sedition statute can be stopped and those prosecuted under it safeguarded while the colonial-era law is examined. The Supreme Court expressed concern about people already facing sedition accusations a day after the government announced it would review it.
“We will give you time till tomorrow morning to take instructions from the government. Our concern is pending cases and future cases, how the government will take care of those till it re-examines the law,” Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said.
“In order to protect the interest of people who are already booked under the sedition law as well as future cases, Centre to file response on whether those can be kept in abeyance till law is re-examined,” the Chief Justice directed.
Earlier, the court grilled the government on its plea for extra time to evaluate the statute and on incidences of law enforcement abuse.
“The state says they are reexamining. But we cannot be unreasonable. We will have to decide how much time has to be given,” Chief Justice Ramana said.
“Can someone stay in jail for months? Your affidavit says civil liberties. How will you protect those liberties,” the Chief Justice questioned.
The petitioners’ lawyer, Gopal Sankaranarayan, said the government’s request for extra time to delay crucial cases was becoming a “pattern,” referring to the marital rape hearing.
“We have to look at both sides,” the Chief Justice said.
“When the affidavit says PM is cognizant and has often spoken about civil liberties and human rights and diversity of thoughts, 75 years of independence, outdated laws being scrapped, laws causing hindrance to people, concerned about civil liberties etc. They are saying they are doing a serious exercise. It should not appear that we are unreasonable. There are concerns about pending cases and misuse.”
“The Attorney General himself noted in a previous hearing how a sedition case was filed in Maharashtra for reciting the Hanuman Chalisa,” the CJI reminded Solicitor General Tushar Mehta. (a reference to Navneet Rana, an independent member of parliament)
CJI to Centre: The AG himself mentioned how a section case wa filed in Maharashtra for reciting the Hanuman Chalisa.
FIRs (First Information Reports) under the sedition statute are carried out by states, not the Centre, according to Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.
Justice Surya Kant, one of the judges, proposed a moratorium on sedition prosecutions.
“Mr Mehta take two-three months. The modification of law takes time. But why don’t you issue a directive from the Centre about future cases,” said the judge.
“We cannot say what will happen in future…these are penal offences. There has been no history where a penal law has been prevented from being used,” the government’s lawyer said.
“But you said states file FIRs. So you tell states that until matter is pending do not file sedition FIRs Justice, Justice Hima Kohli said.
The administration announced on Monday that it would review the sedition statute, two days after vehemently defending it and asking the Supreme Court to dismiss objections to it.
The Solicitor General said there were judgements where Court advised not to be trigger happy about sedition FIRs. “So it does get addressed on case to case basis,” said Mr Menta.
It claimed it had chosen to have the sedition statute “re-examined and re-considered” by a “appropriate venue,” reversing its position just two days after vehemently defending the colonial-era penal law and urging the Supreme Court not to “spend time” in re-examining its contents.
“In the spirit of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav (75 years of Independence) and the vision of PM Narendra Modi, the Government of India has decided to re-examine and reassess the provisions of Section 124A, Sedition statute,” the centre stated in a new affidavit submitted in the Supreme Court.
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