On August 10th, Home Minister Amit Shah unveiled a trio of groundbreaking
bills within the hallowed halls of the Indian Parliament. These legislative
endeavours harboured a profound mission - to revolutionize India's criminal
justice system, effectively dismantling the vestiges of colonial-era legal
paradigms. In this sweeping transformation, they ushered in novel criminal
offenses into the legal drapes, yet clung steadfastly to the age-old principles
In an intriguing twist, the sedition law, long decried for its oppressive
nature, was ostensibly removed from the statute books, with a significant
statement by Home Minister, "Everyone has a Right to speak, we are completely
repealing sedition". However, its spectre lingered ominously, reborn under a
different guise and shrouded in ambiguous language, thereby rendering it more
potent and severe than its predecessor enshrined in Section 124 A of the Indian
Penal Code. This article will strictly restrict its ambit to the ambiguity and
vagueness of sedition and sedition 2.0. Section 150 of BSN is just a same wine
in new bottle as the use of ambiguous terminologies still exist, which is also
existent in section 124A of IP.
Ambiguous And Vague Character Of Section 124 A Of IPC
The core tenet of a just and democratic society is its capacity to uphold the
fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens. An indispensable aspect of
safeguarding these rights lies in the lucidity and meticulousness of its legal
statutes. Obscure and nebulous laws not only contravene the principles of
justice but also pose a significant peril to individual liberties.
Indian Penal Code, Section 124A proscribes word "disaffection" towards the
government, a term notorious for its lack of precision and susceptibility to
multifarious interpretations. The presence of such vagueness within legal
parlance constitutes a grave concern, as it endows investigating officers with
the latitude to adjudge the culpability or innocence of an accused person
Ambiguous statutes contravene the principle of legal certainty,
rendering it arduous for citizens to apprehend the confines of their legal
obligations. The intrinsic equivocation embedded in such provisions alone serves
as a justifiable basis for the nullification of a statute.
Vagueness in legal terminology escalates inimicality when juxtaposed with the
potential for misuse. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, with its ambiguous
concept of "disaffection," bestows considerable discretion upon authorities when
The determination of whether an individual's utterances
possess the propensity to foment disorder becomes a question of subjective
adjudication by the executive branch, effectively casting them in the role of
the tribunal on the streets. This vulnerability engenders a gateway to potential
abuses of power and wrongful prosecutions.
In the case of Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India (2015), the Indian Supreme
Court lucidly apprehended the perils associated with vague and open-ended legal
stipulations. The case centered on the validity of Section 66A of the
Information Technology Act, a statute the Court eventually expunged.
paramount to underscore that the Court's decision did not rest solely upon the
nebulous nature of the legislation but also upon the perilous prospect of its
misuse. In its verdict, the Supreme Court invoked the adage that "vague laws may
trap the innocent by not providing fair warning," a caveat as germane today as
when it was initially articulated.
The Court underscored the imperative of
public discourse as a political duty and underscored that an opaque statute that
criminalizes speech could suffocate the exercise of free expression, impeding
public debate and democratic engagement.
However, similar sort of ambiguity and
vagueness appears in a newly proposed bill of BNS in which it is being claimed
that sedition as it signifies the colonial legacy of britisher`s. But at the
same time a new version of sedition has been proposed under section 150 of BNS
which is considerably more stringent and overtly vague and ambiguous.
How Section 150 Of Bns Resembles With Section 124a Of IPC
It states as , "Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or
written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic
communication or by use of financial mean, or otherwise, excites or attempts to
excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities, or encourages
feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and
integrity of India; or indulges in or commits any such act shall be punished
with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years
and shall also be liable to fine.
This section aims to criminalize actions aimed at inciting secession, armed
rebellion, subversive activities, or separatist sentiments that endanger the
sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India. While the intention behind such a
provision may be to safeguard national security and maintain public order, it
exhibits several elements of vagueness and subjectivity that that are existent
on section 124A of the IPC, 1860 and it can potentially lead to misuse and
curtailment of individual freedoms, as has been done earlier under the former
The section employs terms such as "excites or attempts to excite,"
"subversive activities," "encourages feelings of separatist activities," and
"endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India." These terms are vague
and open to interpretation. What constitutes an attempt? Or what excite or
encourage separatist feelings? May vary from person to person, and different
authorities may have differing interpretations.
The determination of whether
someone has violated this section hinges on subjective assessments by law
enforcement.. The lack of clear criteria for what constitutes an offense may
lead to arbitrary or biased interpretations, potentially allowing for selective
prosecution. The provision encompasses a wide range of activities, including
spoken or written words, signs, visible representations, electronic
communication, and the use of financial means. This broad scope could
potentially encompass legitimate forms of expression, political dissent, or
peaceful advocacy, thereby stifling free speech and expression.
The section does
not provide a clear definition of crucial terms like "secession," "armed
rebellion," or "subversive activities." The absence of precise definitions
leaves room for differing interpretations and potential misuse. With vague and
open-ended language, this provision could be susceptible to misuse by
authorities to suppress dissenting voices, target political opponents, or stifle
minority rights. Such misuse can undermine the principles of justice, fairness,
and the rule of law. Now the question arises, Does BNS Via section 150 upholds
the legacy of colonial penal provision i.e. section 124A of IPC, by making it
more stringent and vague?
In a democratic polity, the law must be unambiguous, precise, and devoid of
ambiguity to shield individual liberties and ensure justice. Obscure legal
provisions, such as Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and newly proposed
section 150 of BNS, can be potentially misinterpreted and misused for
The Supreme Court's pronouncement in Shreya Singhal vs. Union of
aptly underscores the hazards of enigmatic laws and the imperativeness of
their expungement to shield citizens from unjust entanglements within the legal
labyrinth. An ambiguous and vague statute begets profound repercussions for
It unbolts the gateway to arbitrary detentions, incarcerations, and
subjects individuals to protracted pre-trial, trial, and appellate processes
that exact an emotional and financial toll. Such legal ambiguity corrodes the
bedrock principles of justice, equity, and the rule of law.
Written By: Mubashir Azmat Shah,
- BNS section 150: same coffee, little stronger but in a 'different mug', available at: https://www.siasat.com/bns-section-150-same-coffee-little-stronger-but-in-a-different-mug-2669027/
- Sedition by another name equally shady, available at: https://m.economictimes.com/opinion/et-editorial/sedition-by-another-name-equally-shady/articleshow/102917948.cms
- Sedition provision retained with new nomenclature under proposed penal law, available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/india/sedition-provision-retained-with-new-nomenclature-under-proposed-penal-law-2645580
Third Year Law Student At Aligarh Muslim