Two days after firmly defending the country’s colonial-era sedition law and asking the Supreme Court to dismiss the pleas challenging it, the government on Monday did an about-face, saying it has decided to review the legislation.
In a new affidavit filed in the Supreme Court, the centre said, “In the spirit of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav (75 years of Independence) and the vision of PM Narendra Modi, the Government of India has decided to re-examine and reconsider the provisions of Section 124A, Sedition law.”
The government urged the Supreme Court to wait for the review by a “competent forum” and urged it to “not invest time” on petitions filed by the Editors’ Guild of India, Trinamool MP Mahua Moitra and others.
Concerned by the widespread misuse of the sedition law, the top court in July last year had asked the union government why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence the likes of Independence icon Mahatma Gandhi.
On Saturday, the centre had vociferously defended the sedition law and a 1962 verdict of a constitution bench upholding its validity, saying they have withstood “the test of time” for about six decades and the instances of its abuse would “never” justify a reconsideration.
The reply, dramatically at odds with the latest stance, came after a three-judge bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli on Thursday said that it would hear arguments this week about reviewing the 1962 verdict.
The top court, in 1962, had upheld the validity of the sedition law while attempting to restrict its scope for misuse. It had held that unless accompanied by incitement or a call for violence, the criticism of the government cannot be construed as a seditious offence.
However, in recent years, the law has been regularly used to suppress dissent, target critics of governments at the centre and in states, and harass journalists, activists and the opposition say.