Legal Punishment Image: "Punishment for Sedition Offences"

Why In News ?

Home Minister of India introduced the Bharatiya Sanhita Suraksha Bill, 2023 in Lok Sabha to replace the Indian Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure and Indian Evidence Act, and referred the laws to a standing committee.

The Bill, among other things, seeks to reinvent Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code that criminalises sedition as an offence “endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.”

Historical Background :

  • Sedition laws were enacted in 17th century England when lawmakers believed that only good opinions of the government should survive, as bad opinions were detrimental to the government and monarchy.
  • The law was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay but was inexplicably omitted when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was enacted in 1860.
  • Section 124A was inserted in 1870 by an amendment introduced by Sir James Stephen. It was first initiated during British Rule in India under the heading “Exciting Disaffection.”
  • Today the Sedition is a crime under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)

Sedition Law Meaning

Sedition is a crime against the state and is dealt with in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. Sedition Law refers to a body of law that criminalizes speech or conduct that is deemed to be a threat to the stability of the state or to the authority of the government.

Current Law On Sedition

Section 124A of the IPC reads:

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.

Main Elements Of Sedition

  • Words, whether spoken or written, signs, a visual depiction, or any other such act, must exist.
  • An act of this nature should inspire or attempt to inspire anger, contempt, or disaffection;
  • Such hatred, scorn, or disapproval must be directed at any legal government in India; and
  • It must have caused public unrest or the encouragement of violence.

Punishment For Offences Of Sedition

  • It is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term, to which a fine may be added.
  • A person charged under this law is barred from a government job.
  • They have to live without their passport and must produce themselves in the court at all times as and when required.

Sedition Law In India Important Cases :

  • Jogendra Chunder Bose versus the Queen Empress (1891 ) – Bose was charged for publishing an article that was deemed insulting to the British Indian judiciary. This case is significant as it highlights the tensions between the British colonial government and Indian subjects.
  • Sedition Trial of Lokmanya Tilak. (1908) – Two Kesari articles by Tilak were published: “The Country’s Misfortune” and These Remedies Are Not Lasting,” He received a six-year prison term in Burma.
  • Gandhi’s Trial for Seditious Speech (1922) – Due to the writings, he published in his journal, “Young India,” Mahatma Gandhi spent six years in prison.

The Indian Penal Code’s Section 124A was described by Mahatma Gandhi as a “Prince among the political sections designed to crush the liberty of the citizen.”

  • Kedarnath Singh v/s State of Bihar ( 1962 ) – Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of IPC Section 124A.

However, the court attempted to restrict its scope of misuse. The court held that unless accompanied by an incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labelled sedition.

  • Balwant Singh v/s State of Punjab, SC held that merely shouting slogans does not amount to sedition.
  • In the case of S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India 2022, it has decided to suspend Section 124A. According to the top court, all upcoming and ongoing trials, hearings, and appeals are put on hold while the Center re-examines Section 124A.

Recently Proposed Changes In Sedition Law (w.r.t. Bhartiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023 )

  • Section 150 of The Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023 deals with the offence of sedition. However, it does not use the word sedition but describes the offence as “endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.”
  • Whoever indulges in or commits any offence shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.
  • The new provision brings under its sweep aiding through financial means and acts of “subversive activities”, or those encouraging “feelings of separatist activities.

Previous Year Question :

Consider the following statements regarding the Sedition Law:

  1. Section 124A of the IPC penalises a crime against the state.
  2. Under section 124 A, sedition is a non – bailable offence.
  3. Upon conviction, the person can be punished with either life imprisonment and a fine, or imprisonment for up to 3 years and a fine or just a fine.

Which of the Statements given above is/are correct ?

  1. 1 and 2 only.
  2. 2 and 3 only.
  3. 1 and 3 only.
  4. 1, 2 and 3.