The Supreme Court on Wednesday posted the final hearing of a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the offence of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code to May 5.
A bench of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli granted time till this week's end to the Centre to file its response on the pleas after Solicitor General Tushar Mehta sought two days to file a reply. The bench posting the matter for final hearing on May 5 also made it clear that no adjournment would be granted in the case.
During the hearing, Solicitor General Mehta submitted that the Central government's affidavit is ready, some time is required to make some changes and can be filed within two days.
The apex court in its order stated, "Solicitor General sought two days to file a reply. We direct the Centre to file a reply by end of this week. Reply to that affidavit to be filed by Tuesday. List the matter for final disposal without any adjournment on May 5, 2022."
The bench said, "We will have a hearing on May 5. We will have full-day hearings."
Earlier, the top court issued notice to the Centre on the plea filed by former army officer Major-General SG Vombatkere (Retd) challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law. Journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin had also approached the apex court against sedition law. Among other petitions NGO PUCL's petition is also pending which has sought direction to strike down the law.
On the last date of hearing, CJI Ramana questioned the Central government on the requirement of sedition law even after 75 years of independence and observed that it was colonial law that was used against freedom fighters.
While pointing out that sedition law was used against freedom fighters like Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, the apex court had asked Attorney General KK Venugopal why it can't be repealed. It had observed that the Centre has repealed many stale laws and enquired why the government is not looking into repealing Section 124A (which deals with the offence of sedition) of the IPC.
The Bench asked AG, "It's a colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was used by British against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak etc. Is this law still required to exist after 75 years of independence?"
Chief Justice of India had also said that the apex court will look into the plea challenging the Constitutional validity of section 124A while adding that the "situation on the ground is grave... if one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used... It is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties."
It further said that the court was concerned about the misuse of such laws.
Attorney General had told the bench that section 124A need not be struck down and only guidelines are set out so that section meets its legal purpose.
CJI had said, "Use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself".
The top court had further told Attorney General that the conviction rate under Section 124A is very low.
Major-General Vombatkere (Retd) challenged the Constitutional validity of the sedition law on the ground that it causes a "chilling effect" on speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.
He submitted that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with the offence of sedition, is wholly unconstitutional and should be "unequivocally and unambiguously struck down".
Earlier, a different bench of the top court had sought a response from the Centre on a plea challenging the Constitutional validity of sedition law, filed by two journalists -- Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla -- working in Manipur and Chhattisgarh respectively.