Centre defends sedition law in SC, says individual cases no ground for repeal

The Centre has told the Supreme Court that the 1962 verdict of the top court in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case, which upheld the validity of Section 124A of the IPC on sedition, is binding on a three-judge bench, and it is good in law and needs no reconsideration.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said in his written submission: “The judgement in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case is a constitution bench judgment and is binding on a three-judge bench of this court. The said judgment is a good law and needs no reconsideration. It must be treated as a binding precedent requiring no reference.”

Mehta added that individual instances of misuse of the provision cannot be a ground for reconsideration.

Mehta said the Kedar Nath Singh judgement has stood the test of time and is applied till date in tune with modern constitutional principles.

“Only a bench of co-equal strength as of Kedar Nath Singh can pose any doubts on the judgment,” he said.

The Kedar Nath Singh judgment was passed by a five-judge bench.

“The five-judge bench read down Section 124A only to bring it in conformity with Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. No reference, therefore, would be necessary nor can the three-judge bench once again examine the constitutional validity of the very same provision,” added the submissions.

Mehta contended that the bench of three judges cannot reconsider the ratio of a judgment of a constitution bench without referring the matter to a larger bench.

“If none of the above referred arguments are acceptable, this court, in combination of three judges, may not examine the challenge to Section 124A and may refer it to a larger bench for consideration whether Kedar Nath [supra] needs reconsideration,” he added.

Mehta said: “Instances of the abuse of provision would never be a justification to reconsider a binding judgment of the constitution bench. The remedy would lie in preventing such abuse on a case-to-case basis rather than doubting a long standing settled law declared by a constitution bench since about six decades.”

He added that if none of the above referred arguments are acceptable, this court, in combination of three judges, may not examine the challenge to Section 124A and may refer it to a larger bench for consideration whether Kedar Nath needs reconsideration.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana has scheduled the matter for hearing on May 10. The bench will hear the arguments on whether the petitions challenging the validity of sedition under Section 124A should be referred to a Constitution bench.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal said the sedition law is valid, in view of the Kedar Nath Singh case judgement (1962), which balanced freedom of speech and security of state.

Urging the top court to lay down the guidelines to prevent misuse of the law, he said, “Misuse (of the sedition law) is controlled…the question of reference (of Kedar Nath Singh case to a larger bench) does not arise.”

He defended the constitutional validity of Section 124A and the top court’s judgment in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case.

In the last hearing, the three-judge bench had deliberated on whether the matter needs to be referred to a larger bench, since the petitions have sought a direction to overrule the Kedar Nath Singh judgement.

“In every writ petition, there is a prayer to strike down the Kedar Nath judgement and strike down 124A… Can we proceed hearing this case without reference to Kedar Nath Singh to a larger bench,” the bench had noted.

The Supreme Court in the Kedar Nath Singh case clarified that only those acts, which involved incitement to violence or violence, constituted a seditious act under Section 124 A of the IPC.

The top court is hearing the petitions filed by Major General S.G. Vombatkere (retd) and the Editors Guild of India and others, which challenged the constitutional validity of Section 124A that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

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