Case Comments on S.G. Vombatkere v. Union of India


The sedition law [Section 124A[1]] has been criticised as a tool of restriction on the freedom of expression. In 2021, this criticism echoed and a petition was filed in the Hon’ble Supreme Court where the constitutional validity of the law was challenged by two journalist- Kishore Wangkhemcha (ISTV channel journalist based in Manipur) who was taken into custody for his critical remark on the Manipur government and him calling the CM a ‘puppet of Hindutva’ and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla (Cartoon satirist) engaged in political commentary on social media by sharing cartoons that satirised fake encounters conducted by the Gujarat police in the period of 2002 to 2006. Along with this petition, nine other petitions were tagged and one of them was filed by a retired army general, S.G Vombatkere challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of IPC as being ultra vires Article 19(1)(a)[2] read with Article 14 and 21. In his petition, he contends that the vague definition of ‘disaffection towards government’ is an obstructive limitation on the right to free speech and it has an impermissible “chilling effect” on the speech.


  • Is it appropriate to restrict the Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression in the light of Section 124A of Indian Penal Code, 1860?
  • Whether in Modern India there is any place for the colonialist era sedition law given under Section 124A?
  • Does sedition curtail Right to Life and Individual Liberty?
  • Does sedition curtail Right to Equality?
  • Whether sedition is abridging fundamental rights guaranteed to the citizens and should be declared unconstitutional?


Argument of petitioner:

  • Petitioner contends that the Impugned provision upheld in Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar[3] subject to partial reading down. The provision at issue in the case of Kedar Nath is contrary to the Constitution and the interpretation has been overruled by a larger Constitutional bench judgements in the case of R.C Cooper v. Union of India[4] and subsequently maintained and strengthened in Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain[5], Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[6], I R Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu[7] and lately in Puttaswamy v. Union of India[8] which broadened the extent and correlation between Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • He contends that in the case of Jolly Varghese v. Bank of Cochin[9], a new practice came into existence where the court’s started taking into account international treaties and law while interpreting the fundamental rights of the citizen of this country. In 1976, with ratification of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights [OHCHR], India agreed that everyone shall exercise free speech, assert their point of view without any interference as ascribed in Article 19 of OHCHR. The court could not have considered such practice in its 1962’s judgement.
  • Petitioner contends that the Hon’ble Court should not rely solely on the judgement of Kedar Nath while deciding on the constitutional validity of the Section 124A of IPC as it looks at the provisions from the perspective of how they relate to the fundamental rights in the era of A.K Gopalan[10].

Argument of Respondent:

  • The respondent contends that Kedar Nath judgement needs no reconsideration as it clearly states that Section 124A of IPC is in conformity with Article 19, 14 and 21.
  • Respondent contends that increasing occurrences of abuse of the said provision cannot be the reason to reconsider the said judgement, preventive measures can be taken.
  • If arguments not accepted by hon’ble court it may refer it to a larger bench.


Following a surge in the petitions contesting the legality of the Section 124A of IPC, the Hon’ble Supreme Court temporarily suspended the operation of the law. The court stayed the ongoing proceedings, investigations and asked the governments to abstain from filing any new FIR. Directions issued:

  • Upon registration of any new case under the said law, the aggrieved party shall move to the court and request relief.
  • The lower court were directed to assess the application for relief on the basis of the present order and the decisions of the central government.
  • The State governments and the Union territories were advised to desist from registering any new FIRs under the seditious law based on the direction of the Supreme Court.
  • The Government of India can issue any directive or orders that prohibit the abuse of Section 124A of IPC.
  • The then Chief Justice of India asserted that relief could be sought through the competent courts for those who have already been detained under the said law and are in detention cells.

Following the decision by the Hon’ble Supreme Court:

In the case of Aman Chopra v. the State of Rajasthan (2022), the High Court ordered the Rajasthan police not to proceed with investigation into the allegations brought against Aman Chopra based on the provisions of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.


The misuse of sedition law was a concern raised by the then Chief Justice of India N.V Ramana. He is of the view that sedition law is similar to giving a carpenter a saw to cut wood and he use it to cut the entire forest.  

The number of recorded cases of seditious activity was 93 in 2019, 73 in 2020 and 79 in 2021, according to the National Crime Records Bureau report[11]. The reports indicated that there has been an increase of 160% in the cases reported under the Section 124A while the conviction rate dropped to 3.3% in 2019 as compared to 33.3% recorded in 2016, shows gross violation of human rights by the police.

The most problematic aspect related to the law of sedition is the failure to define the law correctly. The provisions related to this section are ambiguous which authorize the government and police to pester innocent citizens due to its vague definition and opaque nature. In the judgement of Disha A. Ravi v. State (NCT of Delhi) & Ors. the High Court ruling made it clear that it is not possible for the government to imprison any individual because of their opposition to the government’s policies. In Vinod Dua v. Union of India, Supreme Court quashed the FIR filed against the lead correspondent. Due to government’s capacity to dismiss its opponents and prosecute them of sedition, the sedition laws limit government accountability.   

Another major concern is that those arrested under the law of sedition, it becomes immensely burdensome for one to get bail since trials can take a very long time which often leads to harassment of innocent individuals and makes individuals terrified of criticizing the government.

Sedition abridges fundamental rights of individuals and restrict their free speech. Maximum punishment prescribed for the vaguely defined law is life imprisonment and in various democracies of the world along with India, the charge of sedition has been denounced as unfair, tyrannical and irrelevant.


The 22nd Law Commission of India is constituted under the chairmanship of Retd Justice Ritu Raj Awasthi. In line with the recommendations made by the commission, Section 124A of the Indian Penal code should be kept intact with certain modifications in view of the conditions under which it is to apply. In its report to the Ministry of Law and Justice, the Law Commission suggested that the Centre should adopt a framework in order to curb the abuse of the sedition law. The Law Commission is of the opinion that the law cannot be annulled just because of its colonial background as this may jeopardise the country’s unity and integrity. They are also of the opinion that law cannot be repealed merely because other countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada et cetera have done so.

TheHon’ble Supreme Court in its order decided to stay the operation of the debatable Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 keeping in abeyance all the pending proceedings and trial along with putting restriction on any fresh registration of FIR. This decision has drawn praise for upholding the fundamental right of individuals enshrined in the Constitution and creating a free space for constructive criticism of the government and its policies. The void or the grey area of the law which is vaguely defined has been allegedly misused to criminalise dissent. With no proper guidelines or directives on the application of sedition law, the law creates a vacuum where the police and ruling government gets an unlimited power to crush the dissent of the public and other political leaders.

Consequently, there is a need to strike a balance between the sovereignty and integrity of the country and the protection of its citizen’s civil liberties, in addition to right to free speech and expression of thought. This is a challenging task that requires appropriate orders and legislation along with suitable guidelines to uphold the fundamental right of individuals and sovereignty of the nation.

Alisha Rusiya

CSJM University

[1] The Indian Penal Code, 1860, Chapter VI, 1860 (India).

[2] INDIA CONST. art. 19 cl. 1(a).

[3] Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, A.I.R. 1962 SC 955 (India).

[4] R.C Cooper v. Union of India, A.I.R. 1970 SC 564 (India).

[5] Indira Gandhi v. Raj Narain, (1975) S.C.C. (2) 159 (India).

[6] Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India, (1978) S.C.R. (2) 621 (India).

[7] I R Coelho v. State of Tamil Nadu, A.I.R. 2007 SC 861 (India).

[8] Puttaswamy v. Union of India, (2017) 10 S.C.C. 1 (India).

[9] Jolly Varghese v. Bank of Cochin, A.I.R. 1980 SC 470 (India).

[10] A.K. Gopalan v. State of Madaras A.I.R. 1950 SC 27 (India).


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