New Delhi: The controversial sedition law will be paused while the government reviews it, the Supreme Court said today in a landmark order that impacts hundreds charged under the colonial-era relic. Those jailed for sedition can approach courts for bail.
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No new FIRs will be filed for sedition and all pending cases will be on hold while the government reconsiders the law, the Supreme Court said, referring to petitions that challenged the law alleging its misuse in cases like in Maharashtra, where it was invoked over the chanting of the Hanuman Chalisa.
“It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further re-examination is over. We hope and expect that centre and state will desist from registering any FIR under 124 A (sedition law) or initiate proceeding under the same till re-examination is over,” said Chief Justice NV Ramana.
If any fresh cases are filed, those charged can approach the court. “The Union of India is at liberty to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law,” the Chief Justice added.
The government, in a major turnaround, announced on Monday its decision to review the sedition law that was once used against Mahatma Gandhi by the British. But it argued today that while it reviews the law, it should not be paused.
The government suggested that for now, a police officer of the level of Superintendent or above could decide whether a sedition charge should be filed.
“There has to be a layer of scrutiny, where a responsible officer is there to scrutinise the gravity of the situation and there of course would be judicial forums,” the Centre’s lawyer, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, said, adding that a law cannot be stayed on the basis of a PIL (Public Interest Litigation).
Pending cases, the government said, were already before courts. “And they may involve terrorism, money-laundering and other additional charges. They are already before courts and should be left on courts to decide,” said the government.
“We do not know the gravity of offences pan-India. There may be other terrorism charges too in these cases. These pending cases are not before police or government. But they are before Court. So, we should not guess the wisdom of Courts,” Mr Mehta said.
Petitioners opposed the government’s stand and urged the court to pause the sedition law until the government’s review of the colonial-era legislation is over. To which, the Solicitor General said: “We cannot undermine respect for the judiciary of the country.”
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, said there were over 800 cases of sedition across India and 13,000 people were in jail.