The report states that the Narendra Modi-led government in India is planning to introduce a more stringent sedition law before the General Election in 2024. The current sedition law, under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, has been put on hold by the Supreme Court of India, pending a review of its validity by the government. However, there are concerns that the government’s assurance to review the law was merely an attempt to deceive the court, as evidenced by the recent report from the 22nd Law Commission of India.The report, titled “Usage of the Law of Sedition,” recommends retaining the sedition law and increasing the punishment from 3 years of imprisonment to 7 years, while retaining the provision for life imprisonment. The commission argues that repealing the sedition law based on the actions of other countries would ignore the ground realities in India. It acknowledges the right to criticize the government but asserts that the sedition law aims to penalize the incitement of violence or public disorder under the guise of freedom of speech and expression.
Furthermore, the report suggests adding the phrase “with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder” to the section, broadening its scope of application. The term “tendency” is clarified to mean an inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder, without requiring proof of actual violence or imminent threat. Despite the government’s promise to review the sedition law, it has sought more time from the Supreme Court, citing the Winter Session of Parliament as a potential opportunity for action. The Supreme Court has granted additional time based on this assurance, keeping the sedition law on hold and suspending related investigations and trials. However, it is suggested that the government’s intention was to retain and strengthen the sedition law. The Law Commission’s report is seen as the government’s review of the sedition law, proposing amendments to bring greater clarity and alignment with other offenses. The report highlights the disparity in punishment for sedition and suggests revising the provision to align it with the punishment scheme for other offenses. The recommendation has also added “with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder” in the section 124 A of IPC enlarging its scope of application of the present provision. The expression “tendency” has been clarified by the report that it would mean mere inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder rather than proof of actual violence or imminent threat to violence.
It also recommends amending the Criminal Procedure Code to require permission from higher-ranking police officers and government authorities before registering an FIR (First Information Report) under Section 124A.
The Supreme Court had expressed concerns about the misuse of the sedition law and the lack of accountability of the executive and investigating agencies. However, with the government’s intent to retain and potentially strengthen the sedition law, these concerns may persist. In summary, the report indicates that the Modi government intends to retain and enhance the sedition law despite promises to review it. The proposed amendments aim to clarify the law’s usage and increase punishment. The government’s actions raise concerns about the misuse of the law and accountability of the executive and investigating agencies, as highlighted by the Supreme Court. It should be recalled that the Supreme Court Bench had emphasized that it was concerned about “misuse of the law and lack of accountability of executive and the investigating agencies.”