In the face of widespread public outrage over the slapping of sedition charges against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi by the Mumbai Police, the government has proposed to take a fresh look at the 142- year-old law to prevent its misuse.
Information and broadcasting minister Ambika Soni had raised the issue during a recent meeting of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on media, which then decided to approach the home ministry for upgrading the archaic provisions in the section dealing with sedition in the Indian Penal Code.
Finance minister P Chidambaram, who heads the GoM, agreed with Soni that it was important for law-enforcing agencies to differentiate between anti-India and anti-government protests, especially while booking somebody on sedition charges.
Soni also articulated her views in a letter to Chidambaram, in which she stated that though Trivedi's cartoons were highly objectionable, the authorities should have exercised alternative legal remedies instead of booking him for sedition. In an oblique criticism of the Mumbai Police, the minister stated that the provisions of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, 1971, could have been used to deal with the “offensive” work of the cartoonist.
Noting that Trivedi’s arrest had triggered a big debate in the country, she wrote that it was time for the government to suitably amend Section 124A of the IPC, which defines sedition.
In April last year, soon after civil rights activist Dr Binayak Sen was granted bail by the Supreme Court, then law minister M Veerappa Moily had termed the sedition law as "outdated". Sen was earlier convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment by a Chattisgarh court. Moily had asked the Law Commission of India, which advises the government on complex legal issues, to review this law. However, there has been no concrete progress in the matter so far.
Interestingly, sedition (Section 124A) was not a part of the original IPC, which came into existence in 1860. It was introduced 10 years later, and then amended in 1898, to make it more stringent.
India’s first Prime Minister, the late Jawaharlal Nehru, had termed Section 124-A IPC as objectionable, and wanted it repealed.
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