Recent media attention and public debate around India’s sedition laws have sparked renewed interest in the manner in which these laws have been used to curb free speech in the country. A quick look at some of those facing sedition charges over the last few years is enough to tell us that there is pressing need for a debate on whether we require these archaic provisions at all. The raising of ‘anti-national’ slogans in Jawaharlal Nehru University campus followed by arrest of student leader Kanhaiya Kumar on the charges of sedition has sparked a major controversy on sedition law which has also grabbed the attention of international media and intellectuals. The offence of sedition under section 124A is the doing of certain acts which would bring the Government established by law in India into hatred or contempt, or create disaffection against it.
This landmark case was decided unanimously by a constitution bench consisting of five Supreme Court judges headed by Justice Bhuvneshwar. In this case, the Appellant was Kedar Nath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party in Bihar, who accused the Congress of corruption, black-marketing and tyranny and targeted Vinobha Bhave’s attempts to redistribute land. He talked about a revolution that would overthrow capitalists, zamindars and Congress. Many parliamentarians were referred to as “dogs” and Congressmen were referred to as “goondas”. The appellant was convicted before a Magistrate in the Trial Court under Section 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code for delivering a seditious speech and intending to disturb public tranquillity. The convicted persons appealed to the High Court of Patna, which was heard by the late Mr. Justice Naqui Imam alone. He upheld the convictions and the sentence and dismissed the appeal. In the course of his judgment, the learned Judge observed that the charge against the appellant was nothing but a vilification of the Government; that it was full of incitement to revolution and that the speech when taken as a whole was certainly seditions. It is not a speech criticizing any of its measures. He held that the offences both under sections 124A and 505(b) of the Indian Penal Code had been made out.
The case was then heard by the Supreme Court through an appeal by special leave. it involved two main legal issues:
- Whether the sections 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are ultra vires in view of the provisions of Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution?
- Whether the intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence is required to constitute the offence of sedition?
The Court before dealing with the contentions of the parties tried to set out the history of law, the amendments it had undergone and its interpretation in various cases such as Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chunder Bose And Ors. And Queen-Empress v. Amba Prasad.
It was argued by the Appellant that his speech fails to fall within the ambit of a seditious speech and was not, in anyway, intended to disturb the public order. Thus, the section 124-A and 505 of the IPC are not attracted to his case. He also stated that he has a fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and the said provisions violate such right. In response , the Respondent argued that the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression is not absolute in nature and Article 19(2) enumerates the reasonable restrictions that can be imposed on the exercise of this right. It was also highlighted that the concept of "security of the state" mentioned in this provision was allied to the concept of "public order".
In its decision, the Supreme Court distinguished clearly between disloyalty to the government and commenting upon the measures of the government without inciting public disorder by acts of violence. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the sedition law, but at the same time curtailed its meaning and limited its application to acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence. The judges observed that if the sedition law was to be given a wider interpretation, it would not survive the test of constitutionality. Tough, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of sedition law in this case but it has limited the scope of the said law.
SECTION 124-A IS INTRA VIRES
It was observed in this case that "Government established by law" is the visible symbol of the State. The very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted. Hence the continued existence of the Government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State. That is why 'sedition', as the offence in s. 124A has been characterised, comes under Chapter VI relating to offences against the State. Hence any acts within the meaning of s.124A which have the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence. this section does not violate the fundamental right of freedom of speech only imposes a reasonable restriction.
REASONABLE RESTRCITION ON FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION
The Court, as the custodian and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens, has the duty to strike any law which unduly restricts the freedom of speech and expression with which we are concerned in this case. The Court has the duty cast upon it of drawing a clear line of demarcation between the ambits of a citizen's fundamental right guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the power of the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on that guaranteed right in the interest of, inter alia, security of the State and public order further, the provisions of the impugned sections, impose restrictions on the fundamental freedom of speech and expression, but those restrictions cannot but be said to be in the interest of public order and within the ambit of permissible legislative interference with that fundamental right.
The Apex Court decided in the favour of the accused, the criminal appeal was dismissed and the accused was acquitted as the statements in question were considered not to be seditious. The Court also declared Article 124A to be intra vires the Constitution in view of Article 19(2). It held that such a restriction is necessary for the safety and integrity of the State. Also it was held that the application of this section would be restricted to acts involving intention or tendency to incite violence, cause public disorder or disturb the law and order of the State.
There are no two ways about the fact that every freedom has its restrictions, including the freedom of speech. Such law is imperative for the security of state and the Court has rightly restricted it to acts which have a tendency or intention of inciting violence or disrupting public law and order. The question here is of the security of state and public order which cannot be compromised. However, there can be no justification for the existence of any provision in the Indian legal system that penalizes peaceful dissent and legitimate criticism.
After analysing various judgements and arguments of this case, I opine that the case has been rightly decided by the Honourable Supreme Court in upholding the validity of Section 124A but restricting its scope. The Supreme Court said that if used arbitrarily, the sedition law would violate freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19. However, even after this judgment of the Supreme Court, the provision continues to be used irrespective of whether the alleged seditious act or words constitute a tendency to cause public disorder or incitement to violence such that in recent cases which have been mentioned in the follow up. The provision is being blatantly used by the government to stifle the voice of anybody who tries to dissent.
 https://indconlawphil.wordpress.com/2013/08/12/what-is-sedition-i-the-kedar-nath-singh-case/ [last viewed on: 10,03.2016]
 Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1959 Alld. 101
Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar AIR 1962 SC 955
 Queen-Empress vs Jogendra Chunder Bose And Ors, (1892) ILR 19 Cal 35
 Queen-Empress vs Amba Prasad, (1898) ILR 20 All 55