In a major victory for civil society groups, the Maharashtra government informed Bombay high court on Tuesday that it had withdrawn a controversial circular on section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to sedition.
Advocate General Srihari Aney conveyed the government decision to a division bench comprising Justice VM Kanade and Justice Shalini Phansalkar-Joshi during a hearing of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the August 27 circular that sparked outrage among various sections of society.
The decision to withdraw the circular was taken at a recent cabinet meeting presided over by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Aney said.
He said the state government would try to find out how the circular came to be issued, but did not specify whether it would issue a fresh circular.
Later, the advocate general told media persons it was up to the government to take a call on the fresh circular.
Earlier, the high court restrained the Devendra Fadnavis government from acting on the circular as it heard a petition filed by cartoonist Aseem Trivedi -- who was arrested on sedition charges -- and another filed by lawyer Narendra Sharma.
Last month, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena government conceded that the circular -- which allegedly sought to invoke sedition charges against anybody for criticising the political establishment -- was lost in translation and assured to come out with a revised version.
Welcoming the development, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant termed it “a victory of democracy” and “withdrawal of a dictatorial step” imposed by the state government.
“Ever since the BJP-led governments have assumed office at the Centre and the state, they are imposing their views on the people as to what to eat, what to wear, what to read and what to study. Attempts have been made to gag the media and even muzzle criticism of the political establishment by threatening sedition charges,” Sawant said.
The withdrawal of the circular was possible due to strong opposition of the Congress and other social groups as well as the masses who fought against the government’s “hidden agenda”, the Congress leader added.