Sedition law was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and was included in the
Indian Penal code in 1870, section 124A which points out that use of any words
spoken, written or sign which brings hatred or contempt against the Government
would be considered as an offence. Mahatma Gandhi called section 124A as the
prince among the political sections of IPC designed to suppress the liberty of
Jawaharlal Nehru also hold the similar view for this section and
points out that the provision was obnoxious and highly objectionable and the
sooner we get rid of it is better.
Kedarnath singh v. State of Bihar -
Court: Supreme Court of India
Bench: Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha, C.J., A.K. Sarkar, J.R. Madholkar, N.
Rajagopala Ayyangar and S.K. Das, JJ
Author of judgement: Chief Justice Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha
Decided on: 20/01/1962
The issue of sedition is recently being in highlights, due to the continuous
activities going on in the country which is somehow being linked to the offence
of sedition. There is strong demand from the past to curb this law as it is
supposed to be a law from colonial period which is not relevant to the present
condition of the country.
This issue got the pace from last three to four years
where raising anti national slogan by the students of Jawaharlal Nehru
University lead to the arrest of the student leader on the ground of sedition,
this issue grabbed the attention of not only national but international media.
The offence of sedition is being stated under section 124A of Indian Penal Code
which states doing certain acts which would bring the Government established by
law in India into hatred or contempt or create disaffection against it.
The validity of this section has been challenged in many of the cases, in case
of Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh
[i] The Hon'ble High Court held that
section 124-A imposed restrictions on the freedom of speech which are not in the
interest of the general public and hence declared 124-A as ultra vires. but this
decision was overruled in the land mark case of Kedarnath singh v. State of
Facts Of The Case:
The case is related to use of wrong words for the party, Kedarnath singh he was
the member of Forward Communist Party Bihar, he used the word dogs
officers and used the word goondas
for the Indian National Congress party, he
went on saying that he believe in revolution, which will come and in the flames
of which the capitalists, zamindars and the Congress leaders of India, who have
made it their profession to loot the country, will be reduced to ashes and on
their ashes will be established a Government of the poor and the downtrodden
people of India. He also targeted Vinobha Bhave's
attempts to redistribute land.
On the basis of the words used and statement made case was filed against him on
the ground of section 124A, sedition and section 505, public mischief, and on
this basis he was sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year.
The matter went for appeal, a singe bench of Patna High Court where the
conviction was upheld and the appeal was dismissed on the ground that:
subject-matter of the charge against the appellant was nothing but a
vilification of the Government; that it was full of incitements to revolution
and that the speech taken as a whole was certainly seditious. It is not a speech criticising any particular policy of the Government or criticising
any of its measures.
On further appeal the matter went before the division bench of Supreme court, as
the issue was of constitutional validity of section 124A and section 505 of
Indian Penal Code the matter was referred to the constitutional bench, on
referring the judicial history of the same the Apex court was confronted with
two conflicting judgements of the Federal Court in Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v.
[iii] and The Privy Council in King-Emperor v. Sadashiv Narayan
While referring both the judgements he Hon'ble Supreme Court was of the opinion
that if the judgement and interpretation of the Federal Court are accepted then
the impugned sections would come within the ambit of permissible legislative
restrictions on the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression.
the other hand, if the judgement and interpretations of the Privy Council be
accepted then the impugned sections are liable to be quashed as unconstitutional
in view of Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2). In this manner, the scope
of the impugned sections was restricted and the Constitutional validity of both
the impugned sections was upheld. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed and
appeal of other connected matter was remanded back to the concerned High Court.
- Whether Sections 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are ultra vires
in view of Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2) of the Constitution?
- Whether the intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of
law and order, or incitement to violence is required to constitute the
offence of sedition?
On the question of issue one the Supreme court held that for the security of the
state maintenance of law and order is the very basic consideration which should
be taken care of and this involves punishing the offenders committing crime
against the state.
In democratic nation right to freedom of speech and
expression should be fully protected but some restrictions are necessary for the
safety and integrity of the state. Accordingly, the Supreme held that Section
124-A and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code was intra vires of the
Constitution of India considering Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2).
On dealing with issue two the court held that both the decisions are
conflicting one, if the interpretation of Privy Council that even without
any tendency to disorder or intention to create disturbance of law and
order, by the use of words written or spoke which merely create disaffection
or feelings of enmity against the Government, the offence of sedition is
complete, then such an interpretation of the sections would make then
unconstitutional in view of Art. 19(1)(a) read with clause (2).
Accordingly the interpretation of the Federal Court that that the gist of
the offence of sedition
is incitement to violence
or the tendency or the intention to create public disorders by words spoken or
written, which have the tendency or the effect of bringing the Government
established by law into hatred or contempt or creating disaffection in the sense
of disloyalty to the State was accepted and the Section was given a restrictive interpretation. [v]
Supreme court in its view clearly stated that the section 124A cannot be
interpreted literally it needs to be interpreted by the judges, hence the two
essential necessary to establish the crime of sedition is:
Outcomes Of The Decision:
- the acts complained of must be intended to have the effect of subverting
the Government by violent means; and
- the acts complained of must be intended, or have a tendency, to create
disorder or disturbance of public peace/ law and order by resort to violence
and must incite violence. [vi]
After Effect Of Judgement:
- Section 124 A intra vires
In this decision it was observed by the supreme court that for the stability of
the state it is essential to recognise the activities against the state as an
offence because the visible symbol of the state is the Government established by
the law. The very existence of the state will be in danger if the Government
established by law is destabilized. Hence any acts within the meaning of section
124 A which have the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that
Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would
be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government
established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public
disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence. The court
clarifies that it does not take away the fundamental right of right to speech
and expression but is just a reasonable restriction which is essential for the
security and sovereignty of the state.
- Reasonable restriction:
The court is considered as the guarantor of fundamental rights of the citizens
and has the responsibility to struck down any law which has the effect of taking
away the fundamental right of the citizen. The court has the duty to point out
what is fundamental right and where the legislature has power to impose
reasonable restriction, on that basis statement by the accused was not
considered as seditious and held that section 124A is intra vires to the
constitution in view of article 19(2), such restriction is necessary for the
integrity and security of the state. [vii]
The judgement is one of the most popular and widely used precedent by the court
and also helped a lot in judicial development, as the judgement has highlighted
the importance of free speech, and hesitating to trust the state with too much
power, have insisted on a close and clear link between the suppressed speech and
the feared public disorder.
In 2011, while deciding a case under now-defunct Terrorist and Disruptive
Activities (Prevention) Act (Tada), the court held that a member of a terrorist
organization could not be convicted for mere membership, unless he had been
involved in inciting people to lawless action. Also, in the famous Shreya
Singhal case, the court distinguished between advocacy" and incitement", and
held that only the latter could be punished consistent with Article
In Shreya Singhal's
[ix] landmark judgement, section 66A of Information
Technology Act was struck down as it was considered as unconstitutional and
vague, the court held that the section is so vague that neither the accused know
what the offence is nor the authorities are clear on what the charges should be.
In another judgement of Dr. Binayak Sen v. State of Chhattisgarh
[x], he was
accused of sedition against Chhattisgarh Government, as he was alleged to have
supported the Naxalites thereby violating the provision of Chhattisgarh Special
Public Security Act 2005
The decision is no doubt a good precedent for further cases as it protects the
individuals right to freedom that to without compromising the security of the
state which should be the prime motive of any state. The court has rightly
observed that section 124A is valid but restricting its scope which is essential
as fundamental rights would be question otherwise.
However, even after this
judgment of the Supreme Court, the provision continues to be used irrespective
of whether the alleged seditious act or words constitute a tendency to cause
public disorder or incitement to violence such that in recent cases which have
been mentioned in the follow up.
The provision is being blatantly used by the
government to stifle the voice of anybody who tries to dissent.[xi]
The judgement is one of the most crystal clear judgement which clearly states
two condition if they are fulfilled it would constitute the crime otherwise not
but again and again this is being misused just to curb the voice of the citizens
who are giving their critical views against the government, which is directly or
indirectly infringing the fundamental rights o the citizens which are guaranteed
to them by the constitution of India.
- Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1959 Alld. 101
- Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955
- Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v. The King (1942) F.C.R. 38
- King-Emperor v. Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao I.L.R. (1947) IndAp 89
- Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, (2013) 12 SCC 73
- Dr. Binayak Sen v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2011 ELT 193 Chhattisgarh
- Ibid vii
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