Committee on criminal law reforms recommended amendments to sedition law

Irina Baranova

Either completely withdraw the law or amend the particular section, says official

Either completely withdraw the law or amend the particular section, says official

A panel of experts constituted by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to suggest reforms to the British-era Indian Penal Code (IPC) has recommended amendments to the sedition law, a senior government official told The Hindu.

The Committee for Reforms in Criminal Laws appointed by the MHA in 2020 submitted an exhaustive report in March, which among other IPC sections also examined Section 124-A IPC or sedition.

The official said there were two school of thoughts – either completely withdraw the law or amend the particular section.

“The panel was largely of the view that if sedition could be dropped and included as a sub-set in a wider range of crimes committed against the State. A person cannot be made to languish in jail for writing a newspaper article. It has to be seen if that article led to serious law and order problems, mere presumption is not sufficient,” said the official.

A questionnaire sent by the committee for public consultation in 2020 had under a category called the “Offences Against the State,” asked “Does the offence of sedition under Section 124-A require omission or any amendment in terms of its definition, scope and cognisability?”

Other than IPC, the committee also examined and has recommended changes to the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Evidence Act, 1872.

“Simply criticising the State should not be enough to invoke sedition, let there be a guilty mind – whether such act wanted to disturbance? The term sedition is colonial. When there is no king, how can a provision meant to protect the king be there?” said the official citing the recommendations of the report.

The committee largely concluded that sedition can be amended and included in the category of crimes committed against the State to protect its sovereignty, integrity and security.

“There was an overwhelming consensus on the misuse of sedition law. The law is misused to detain or arrest people for long periods without trial. The law should be amended so that indiscriminate arrest can be avoided,” said the official.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), as many as 356 cases of sedition were registered in the country between the years 2015 and 2020 in which 548 persons were arrested. Only 62 cases went to trial, there were acquittals in 55 cases and only 12 persons in seven cases were convicted during the period.

In 2019, as many as 96 persons were arrested for sedition but only two were convicted and 29 persons were acquitted. Of the 93 cases of sedition registered in 2019, chargesheet was filed in only 40 cases.

On May 9, MHA filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court informed the apex court of its decision to “re-examine” and “re-consider” the sedition law in the background of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s belief that the nation should work harder to shed “colonial baggage”, including outdated laws, while celebrating 75 years of Independence under the banner of Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

The maximum punishment for the crime is life imprisonment.

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