• The Law Commission of India has suggested that the sedition law, a 153-year-old colonial law, should be retained with certain amendments and increased punishment of up to life imprisonment. The Commission proposes amending Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with sedition, to provide greater clarity in its interpretation, understanding, and usage.
  • The recommended amendment aims to align Section 124A with the Supreme Court’s 1962 verdict in the Kedar Nath Case, which clarified that the sedition clause should only be invoked if there is a pernicious tendency to incite violence. The sedition law should not be used to suppress freedom of speech.
  • The Commission suggests rephrasing Section 124A as follows: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
  • The Commission further recommends increasing the maximum punishment to “seven years,” granting the courts more flexibility to impose suitable penalties based on the gravity of the offense. The sedition law is currently on hold due to an interim order of the Supreme Court, as activists and jurists claim it is often misused to silence dissent.
  • The proposed amendments also incorporate the “tendency” aspect mentioned in the Kedar Nath verdict, emphasizing that a mere inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder should be sufficient to invoke the sedition clause, without requiring proof of actual or imminent violence.
  • To prevent abuse of the provision, the Commission suggests procedural safeguards. It proposes amending Section 154 of the Criminal Procedure Code, requiring a preliminary inquiry by a police officer of at least the rank of Inspector before registering an FIR under Section 124A.
  • The Law Commission justifies the retention of the sedition law, stating that it is a reasonable restriction on the right to free speech and essential for protecting the security and stability of the State. It points out that other jurisdictions like the US and UK have merged their sedition law with counter-terror legislation.
  • Without Section 124A, expressions inciting violence against the government would be tried under more stringent counter-terror laws. Hence, the Commission stresses the importance of retaining Section 124A to combat anti-national and secessionist elements and to nip subversive activities in their early stages.

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