SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION(C) No.682 OF 2021
PETITIONER: SG VOMBATKERE
RESPONDENT: Union of India
DATE OF DECISION: 11 May 2022
BENCH: 3 judge bench constituted by Hon’ble CJI NV Ramana, Ms. Justice Hima Kohli, Mr. Justice Surya Kant
LEGAL PROVISION: Section124Aof Indian Penal Code 1860 (IPC)
The case deals with the subject of sedition law under section 124A of the IPC where the petitions challenging the constitutionality of the law have been filed.
Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar1 was the first post-independence case in which the constitutionality of Section 124-A IPC was challenged.
In the judgement of present case, Supreme Court has given certain orders that direct the halt on further operation of law. The current status of the law is that it is “on HOLD” and under reconsideration of authorities.
A bunch of writ petitions (in the citations of this case the petitioner SG Vombatkere is an 80 year old retired Army General) were filed in the Supreme Court of India that challenged the constitutionality of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with the offence of sedition.2
Court addressed that this matter was listed for the first time on 15 July 2021 and subsequent to that present hearing was held. After hearing the contentions of the Senior Counsel representing petitioner, the court ordered the Solicitor General of India to present the counter affidavit.
On the request of the Solicitor General for extension of time to file affidavit, the court granted time of two weeks for the same and directed the parties to file their written submissions.
On 9 May 2022, an affidavit was filed on behalf of the Union of India, averring that there is indubitably a need of penal provisions against the activities that tend to destabilize the government structure and elements that threaten the sovereignty and integrity of the nation, but such provisions cannot be exposed to being misapplied and abused for the purposes not intended by law. The affidavit also stated that the Prime Minister of India is also cognizant of the significance of civil liberties and constitutional and human rights.
The government thereby has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provision of section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which can only be done before the Competent Forum.
CONTENTIONS OF THE PETITIONER:-
1. Sedition law under Section 124A of the IPC is outdated and contravenes citizen’s fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and thus need to be called off.
2. The law was instituted at the time of colonial rule of British to suppress the revolutionary movements against the dystopian government of the British.
It is against the principles of republican democracy and thereby needs to be wholly declared as unconstitutional.
CONTENTIONS OF THE RESPONDENT:-
1. There definitely lies a need of provisions that penalize the actions of infringing elements which endanger the sovereignty and integrity of India and intend to sabotage governance of the state, but concern for the abuse of such laws is need of the hour.
2. The union government acknowledges the importance of civil liberties and human rights that are somehow violated due to operation of this law and thereby intends to reconsider the provisions of this law and advises state governments not to continue provisions of the same until the reconsideration process gets complete.
1. Whether the centuries old sedition law under section 124A IPC is still valid and needful in the contemporary India.
2. Whether the Sedition law abridges fundamental freedoms of speech and expression of Indian citizens and thereby declared unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court on admitting the records of the petitions and counter affidavit presented by Solicitor General On behalf of Union of India stayed the further operation of section 124A IPC and gave the following orders in interest of justice:
1. The state and central government shall refrain from registering any FIRs, continuing any investigations or pursuing any coercive measures under the provisions of the sedition law while the law has undergone process of reconsideration.
2. The persons aggrieved by the fresh cases of prosecution under section 124A are entitled to relief and can approach the courts for the same. The courts are directed to consider the relief pleas in accordance to the present ruling of the Apex court and the stand of Union of India in this regard.
3 All pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of IPC be kept in abeyance. The proceedings related to other sections may continue if the courts are of the opinion that no prejudice will be caused to the accused.
4. The Union Government stands at liberty with regard to issuing any directives or orders that prohibit the abuse of section 124A IPC.
5. The orders in this ruling shall remain in force until the further orders are passed or the final decision of the government is out.
DEFECT OF THE LAW
There have been made multiple prosecutions in recent times by the invocation of section 124A IPC. The cases have grabbed attention as the the law has been clearly misused by authorities in various instances.
In Inayat Altaf Shekh and 3 ors v. State of U.P2, where trial against three college students from J&K was initiated under section 124A of IPC and 66F of IT Act , who were accused of raising pro-Pakistan slogans following Pakistan’s victory in a T20 Cricket World Cup match against India in 2021.
The recent Rana couple case in Maharashtra is another instance where police went overboard in framing sedition charges against the Hanuman Chalisa reciting couple.
However, there has been exponential rise in number of arrests under 124A IPC by 160%, the conviction rate has seen decline. The statistical data by NCRB has revealed that 322 cases of sedition were registered in between the time period of 2016 and 2020. Of these, 422 people were arrested. But during this time, only 12 people could be proved guilty of treason and they were punished. This not only clearly shows the arbitrariness of the police, but also gross violation of human rights.3 
The section 124A IPC states that-
“any person 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 India”. It was incorporated in IPC in 1870. It basically includes a comment or action that attempts to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection among the common masses against the government. It is a non bailable offence, which may inflict imprisonment of 3 years or more.
With the recent repeal of sedition law in Pakistan, when Lahore High Court declared the law as unconstitutional in April 2023, the supreme court of India has again faced sudden influx of questions regarding the arbitrariness of the law. However, as per the latest recommendations of the law commission headed by Justice Ritu Raj Awasthy(rtd.) it has been said that merely referring the sedition law as colonial legacy is not a valid ground for the law being repealed. But in the view of the misuse of section 124A, the panel has recommended that the Centre is at obligation to issue model guidelines to curb its misapplication by enforcement agencies.4
We reach to a conclusion that the law has lost its foundational purpose and has often led to the misuse of itself via the distorting authorities. The rigors of the section 124A IPC is not in tune with the current social milieu, and was intended for a time when this country was under colonial regime.5 The law is outdated and has been repealed by UK itself in 2009 but it still subsists in IPC. We need to shed colonial baggage that has passed its utility which includes outdated colonial laws and practices. 6 It has somehow contradicted principles of democracy as criticising the government is the essence of the edifice.
But we can also not deny the seriousness of offences that endanger the security of the nation. Therefore there needs to be established a balance between integrity and sovereignty of the country on one hand and ensuring civil liberties and rights of speech and expression to its citizens on the other. This is a difficult task which needs meticulous executive orders and appropriate guidelines to ensure the set objective.
Author: ISHA SHARMA
Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar
 Kedar Singh v. State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955
 Inayat Altaf Shekh v. State of U.P. , FIR registered in 2021, later transferred by Allahabad High Court to Saharanpur