Supreme Court’s Ruling on Sedition Law

Sedition Law


  • Recently, the Supreme Court has quashed case of sedition filed against journalist Vinod Dua in Himachal Pradesh for allegedly making remarks against Prime Minister of India and the government.

  • Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with Sedition Law which is a non-bailable offence /crime.

Key Details

  • In a video, journalist Vinod Dua had criticised Prime Minster of India and the Centre for the handling of the migrant crisis last year.
  • The government filed a case of sedition against Dua in which section 124A of the IPC penalises sedition as punishable with either imprisonment ranging from three years to a lifetime, a fine, or both.
  • The Himachal Pradesh government argued in the Supreme Court that Dua had attempted to spread misinformation or incorrect information and cause panic in the perception of the general public.
  • Both the state and the Centre argued against quashing the FIR because the state wanted to investigate whether such statements were “deliberate” or “unintended and innocent assertions”.

Ruling of the Supreme Court on Sedition law

  • It held that his remarks constituted genuine criticism of the government and could not be labelled seditious.
  • The court has directed that FIRs against persons belonging to the media with “at least 10 years’ standing not be registered unless cleared by a committee to be constituted by every State Government.
    • The committee should comprise of the Chief Justice of the High Court or a Judge designated by him, the leader of the Opposition and the Home Minister of the State to prevent misuse of the sedition law.
  • It must be clarified that every Journalist will be entitled to protection in terms of Kedar Nath Singh, as every prosecution under Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC must be in strict conformity with the scope and ambit of the above mention sections.
  • The court entertained Dua’s writ petition under Article 32 as the Himachal Pradesh police failed to complete the investigation and submit its report under Section 173 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
  • The Court relied on the Kedar Nath judgement in which the apex court had held that a citizen has the right to say or write whatever he likes about the government or its measures by way of criticism so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government or with the intention of creating public disorder.

Sedition law and the stand of Supreme Court of India

  • The constitutionality of sedition was challenged in the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Vs State of Bihar (1962). The Court upheld the law on the basis that this power was required by the state to protect itself. However, it had added a vital caveat that “a person could be prosecuted for sedition only if his acts caused incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace”.
  • The court held that “a citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder”.
  • In September 2016, the Supreme Court had reiterated these necessary safeguards and held that they should be followed by all authorities.

Sedition law in international jurisdiction

  • The United Kingdom deleted the seditious libel through the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009. Sedition law
  • In Australia, following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) the term sedition was removed and replaced with references to ‘urging violence offenses’.

What are the Kedar Nath Singh guidelines?

  • In the landmark 1962 Kedar Nath Singh case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the sedition law.
    • The apex court attempted to restrict its scope for misuse.
  • The court held that unless accompanied by an incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labelled sedition.
  • The seven principles in the Kedar Nath Singh ruling specify situations in which the charge of sedition cannot be applied:

    1. The expression ‘the government established by law’ has to be distinguished from the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on the administration.
      • The ‘government established by law’ is the visible symbol of the State and the very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted.”
    2. 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.
      • 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.
    3. The comments without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence would not be penal.
    4. A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law.
    5. The provisions of the Sections make it reasonably clear that the sections aim at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace.
    6. It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order.
    7. We propose to limit its operation only to such activities as come within the ambit of the observations of the Federal Court.

Section 124-A

  • Section 124-A was not a part of the original Indian Penal Code drafted by Lord Macaulay and treason was confined just to levying war.
  • It was Sir James Fitzjames Stephen who subsequently got it inserted in 1870 in response to the Wahabi movement that had asked Muslims to initiate jihad against the colonial regime. While introducing the Bill, he argued that Wahabis are going from village to village and preaching that it was the sacred religious duty of Muslims to wage a war against British rule.
  • Stephen himself was interested in having provisions similar to the UK Treason Felony Act 1848 because of his strong agreement with the Lockean contractual notion of allegiance to the king and deference to the state.
  • Mahatma Gandhi, during his trial in 1922, termed Section 124-A as the “prince among the political sections of IPC designed to suppress liberty of the citizen”.
  • Strangely, the Fundamental Rights Sub-Committee (April 29, 1947) headed by Sardar Patel included sedition as a legitimate ground to restrict free speech. When Patel was criticised by other members of the Constituent Assembly, he dropped it.
  • Constitutionally, Section 124A being a pre-Constitution law that is inconsistent with Article 19(1)(a), on the commencement of the Constitution, had become void. In fact, it was struck down by the Punjab High Court in Tara Singh Gopi Chand (1951).

Arguments in support of Section 124A

  • Section 124A of the IPC has its utility in combating anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements
  • It protects the elected government from attempts to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means. The continued existence of the government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State
  • If contempt of court invites penal action, contempt of government should also attract punishment
  • Many districts in different states face a Maoist insurgency and rebel groups virtually run a parallel administration. These groups openly advocate the overthrow of the state government by revolution
  • Against this backdrop, the abolition of Section 124A would be ill-advised merely because it has been wrongly invoked in some highly publicized cases

Arguments against Section 124A

  • Section 124A is a relic of colonial legacy and unsuited in a democracy. It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression.
  • Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy. They should not be constructed as sedition. Right to question, criticize and change rulers is very fundamental to the idea of democracy.
  • The British, who introduced sedition to oppress Indians, have themselves abolished the law in their country. There is no reason, why should not India abolish this section.
  • The terms used under Section 124A like ‘disaffection’ are vague and subject to different interpretation to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.


  • In 2018, the Law Commission had recommended that the sedition law should not be used to curb free speech. Let the criminal law revision committee working under the Ministry of Home Affairs make the bold recommendation of dropping the draconian law. A political consensus needs to be forged on this issue.

Source: IE & India Today

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