Monday, April 22, 2024

Sedition law paused: Centre says don’t cross “lakshman rekha” to SC

The controversial sedition law will be on hold as the government reviews it and those in jail can approach courts for bail, the Supreme Court ordered today.

The Supreme Court also rejected the Centre’s argument that such trials should continue in courts as charges like terror could be involved.

Today’s historic order impacts hundreds charged under the sedition law. Those already jailed for sedition can approach courts for bail.

The government argued today that while it reviews the law, it should not be paused. For now, it suggested, 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 should be decided by them. “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,” Mehta said.

Shortly after the order, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said while he “respected the court and its independence”, there is a “Lakshman Rekha” that cannot be crossed.

“We’ve made our positions very clear and also informed the court about the intention of our PM (Prime Minister Narendra Modi). We respect the court and its independence. But there’s a ‘Lakshman Rekha’ that must be respected by all organs of the state in letter and spirit. We have to ensure that we respect the provisions of the Indian Constitution as well as existing laws,” the Law Minister told reporters.

“We respect each other, the court should respect government, legislature, so as government should also respect court. We have clear demarcation of boundary and that Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed by anybody,” Mr Rijiju added.

As he made the sharp comment, Mr Rijiju evaded a question on whether he believed the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong.

While pausing the controversial colonial-era law being reviewed by the government, the Supreme Court said the court’s job was to balance civil liberty and sovereignty of state, “a difficult exercise”.

“It will be appropriate not to use this provision till further re-examination is over. We hope and expect the Centre and state will refrain from registering any FIR under Section 124a (sedition). All pending proceedings to be kept in abeyance,” said Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, heading a three-judge bench.

The Supreme Court also said the government was “at liberty” to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law. If fresh cases were filed, courts must “expeditiously dispose” of them, said the Chief Justice.

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.

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.

On Monday, the government,said it had decided to review the sedition law and requested more time from the Supreme Court, which is hearing petitions challenging the law.

Today’s historic order impacts hundreds charged under the sedition law. Those already jailed for sedition can approach courts for bail.

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