What is Sedition

What is Sedition Law?: Section 124A IPC

IPC 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which deals with the Sedition was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and included in the IPC in 1870.

IPC 124A states:

“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, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added; or, with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which a fine may be added; or, with fine.”

Punishment under IPC 124A:

Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the law varied from imprisonment upto three years to a life term and fine. A person charged under this law can’t apply for a government job. They have to live without their passport and must present themeselves in the court as and when required.

Challenge to IPC 124A:


What is Sedition Law?

Section 124A has been challenged in various courts in specific cases. The validity of the provision itself was upheld by a Constitution Bench in 1962, in Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar.

That judgment went into the issue of whether the law on sedition is consistent with the fundamental right under Article 19 (1) (a) which guarantees each citizen’s freedom of speech and expression. The Supreme Court laid down that every citizen has a right to say or write about the government, by way of criticism or comment, as long as it does not “incite people to violence” against the government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.

In the year 2015, Maharastra Govt. issued one circular for its police personnel before invoking sedition. The 2015 circular came during the hearing of a public interest litigation in the Bombay High Court, after cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was booked for sedition. Trivedi had been arrested in 2012 for cartoons during the anti-corruption protests by Anna Hazare, on charges including sedition as it was claimed that they defamed Parliament and the Constitution. The sedition charge was subsequently dropped by the police; a PIL was filed in 2015 on the alleged “arbitrary” application of the charge.

The High Court in 2015 referred to the Kedarnath judgment and said there was a need to lay down parameters for the invocation of Section 124A. “Otherwise a situation would result in which an unrestricted recourse to Section 124A would result in a serious encroachment of guarantee of personal liberty conferred upon every citizen of a free society,” the court had said.

Apart from the Kedarnath judgment, the High Court referred to five other judgments, including a Supreme Court judgment (Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab) regarding raising of slogans by three men after former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated. The SC then ruled that “casual raising of slogans, once or twice by two individuals alone cannot be said to be aimed at exciting or attempt to excite hatred or disaffection by the government”.

The court observed, “It is clear that the provisions of Section 124A of IPC cannot be invoked to penalise criticism of the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on administration or strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of the government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means.”.

The state guidelines

The circular was issued, and its guidelines included preconditions to be kept in mind while invocation of 124A. These were that the words, signs or representations in question must bring the government into hatred or contempt or must cause or attempt to cause disaffection, enmity or disloyalty to the government, and must also be an incitement to violence or must be intended or tend to create public disorder or a reasonable apprehension of public disorder. “Comments expressing disapproval or criticism of the government with a view to obtaining a change of government by lawful means without any of the above are not seditious under section 124A,” stated one of the preconditions.

To ensure that the section is not raised arbitrarily, the circular also directed that a legal opinion from the district law officer should be taken by the public prosecutor addressing fulfilment of these conditions. Within a few months of the High Court order in 2015, the state government also informed the court that it was issuing a Government Resolution based on the circular.

What is Sedition Law as per judgments?

Judgments on Sedition Law:

1997(3) R.C.R.(Criminal) 812

A.S. Anand and K.T. Thomas, JJ.
Decided: 1997

Indian Penal Code, Section 124A — Offence of sedition – No averment in charge that accused was doing acts which would bring the Government into hatred or contempt – Conviction of accused under Section 124A Indian Penal Code set aside.

Dr. A.S. Anand and Faizan Uddin, JJ.
Decided: 1995

Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sections 124A and 153A – Sedition – Offences under – Mere casual raising of some slogans, a couple of times by accused persons without intention to incite people to create disorder – Does not constitute any threat to the Government of India nor it give rise to the feeling of enmity of hatred among different communities or religious or other groups – Provisions of Sections 124A and 153A , not attracted.

B.P. Sinha, C.J.I., S.K. Das, A.K. Sarkar, N. Rajagopala Ayyangar and J. R. Mudholkar, JJ.
Decided: 1962

Constitution of India, Article 19 (1)(a) and 19(2) – Indian Penal Code, 1860, Sections 124A and 505 – Sedition – Statements conducting to public mischief – Provisions of, are not unconstitutional as being violative of the fundamental right of freedom of Speech and Expression – Restrictions imposed by impugned provisions cannot but be said to be in the interest of public order and within the ambit of permissible legislative interference with that fundamental right.

Judgments on Bail in Section 124A IPC, Sedition Law

Sudhir Mittal, J.
Decided: 2020

2020(4) R.C.R.(Criminal) 841

Indian Penal Code, 1860 Sections 115 , 124A , 153A , 505 (2), 295 , 188 , 269 , 270, 271 and 506 – Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, Section 3 – Disaster Management Act, 2005, Section 54 – Offences of sedition, hurting religious sentiments and causing communal disaffection – Regular bail – Allegations in FIR, that, petitioner went live on Facebook and made statements against unity and integrity of Nation as he was unhappy with lock down imposed due to Corona Virus and way pandemic was being handled by Government of India as well as Punjab Government – Held, in democracy every citizen has right to voice his/her opinion freely and criticize functioning of Government – However, same should be done in decent manner and un-parliamentary language should not be adopted – State needs to be more tolerant and circumspect while invoking laws pertaining to sedition and religious disaffection – Petitioner in custody for 06 months and 14 days and trial not likely to be concluded at early date – No other criminal case pending against him – Therefore, petitioner entitled for regular bail.

Mr. Sanjay Dhar, J.
Decided: 2020

Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 Section 439 read with Section 437 Indian Penal Code, 1860 Sections 124A , 153A , 153B , 505 (2) and 188 Bail – Petitioner made Objectionable and derogatory comments against Country and its armed forces and uploaded remarks on social media during India-China face off – Held, mere expression of derogatory or objectionable words may not be a sufficient ground for invoking provisions contained in Sections 124A or 153A of IPC as provisions apply only when written or spoken words have tendency or intention of creating disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence – Diary shows that immediately after commission of alleged offence by petitioner, he has published a public apology and expressed his regrets – Conduct of petitioner subsequent to commission of alleged offence, lends assurance against repetition of similar offence by petitioner – Petitioner not alleged to have committed offence which carries capital punishment, thus, rigor of section 437 (1)(i) of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 not attracted – Petitioner entitled for bail on terms and conditions.

Also Read: Mischief Section 425 IPC: Ingredients


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