The Supreme Court on Tuesday junked a PIL seeking to declare the penal provision of sedition as ultra vires in the Constitution due to its chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression.
A bench headed by Chief Justice S. A. Bobde noted that as per the precedent in the Kusum Ingots case, a law cannot be challenged without cause of action. Senior advocate Anoop George Chaudhari, appearing for petitioners, argued before the bench also comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian that his clients are challenging Section 124A IPC.
The Chief Justice queried, “what is your cause of action?” The advocate replied that the petition has been filed by a group of lawyers – Aditya Ranjan, Varun Thakur and V. Elanchezhiyan. The bench reiterated “where is the cause of action? There is no case.” The counsel replied that the nature of plea is public interest and directions need to be issued to follow the court’s ruling in Kedar Nath and Balwant Singh.
The Chief Justice said, “we do not have a case before us where persons are rotting in jail.” The bench asked Chaudhari to come before it in a concrete case and dismissed the petition. “The writ petition is dismissed. As a sequel to the above, pending interlocutory applications, if any, stand disposed of,” said the court in its order.
The petitioners have contended that they were aggrieved by the blatant misuse of Section 124-A of the IPC. They emphasised that this particular section has a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression in the constitutional democracy. “It is submitted that under the continuously expanding scope of the fundamental rights, a colonial provision like section 124-A which was intended to subjugate the subjects of the British crown should not be permitted to continue in a democratic republic,” the plea said.
The petitioner cited Kedar Nath Singh versus State of Bihar (1962), where the top court upheld validity of the provision by reading it down. “However, after six decades of experience with the sedition law, it is clear that the said judgment requires reconsideration especially in the light of a spate of sedition charges imposed against various persons speaking out against the governments of the day and their policies. Section 124-A has a chilling effect on any dissenting free speech and/or criticism of the government which is an essence of democracy,” the plea argued.