Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar – Key Details:
- Court: Supreme Court of India
- Bench: Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha, C.J., A.K. Sarkar, J.R. Madholkar, N. Rajagopala Ayyangar, and S.K. Das, JJ
- Author of Judgment: Chief Justice Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha
- Decided on: January 20, 1962
Welcome to the official blog of the Law Offices of Kr. Vivek Tanwar Advocate and Associates, where we are dedicated to providing litigation support services for matters related to Sedition. In today’s blog post, we aim to shed light on the prevailing issues surrounding Sedition, the legal framework in place for their protection, and the steps we can take as a society to combat these acts. Join us as we explore this critical subject and empower you with the knowledge to protect your rights and safety.
In a significant legal development on September 12, 2023, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court of India referred petitions challenging the constitutionality of Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC), commonly known as the sedition law, to a larger bench comprising a minimum of five judges. This referral came as a response to the Chief Justice of India’s (CJI) observation that, due to the necessity of revisiting the 1962 judgment in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, decided by a Constitution Bench, a larger bench was needed to address the constitutionality of Section 124-A.
The Significance of the Sedition Law:
The sedition law, Section 124-A of the IPC, was introduced by the British colonial government in 1870 as a means to suppress the Indian independence movement. Astonishingly, even after India gained independence, this law remained on the statute books. It was upheld by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962). The present development signifies an opportunity to reevaluate the relevance of this colonial-era law in modern India.
The Supreme Court’s Decision:
The recent development occurred on September 12, 2023, when a three-judge bench, led by the Chief Justice of India, determined that the challenge to Section 124-A’s constitutionality necessitates revisiting the judgment in Kedar Nath Singh. Given the significance of the issue, the bench decided that a larger panel of at least five judges should be tasked with reevaluating the matter. This decision followed a discussion during which the court pointed out that Kedar Nath Singh had primarily considered Section 124-A in the context of Article 19, neglecting to examine its implications under Articles 14 and 21 of the Indian Constitution.
Despite pleas from the Attorney General and the Solicitor General to postpone the proceedings due to the introduction of new bills aimed at overhauling Indian criminal law and the penal code in the Parliament, the court rejected this request. The court reasoned that the new legislation would only apply prospectively and would not impact cases previously brought under Section 124-A.
Background on Sedition Law:
The sedition law, Section 124-A, was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and added to the Indian Penal Code in 1870. It specifically targets the use of spoken or written words that promote hatred, contempt, or disaffection against the government. Prominent figures such as Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru have criticized this section as obnoxious and detrimental to citizens’ liberty.
Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar: The Case
- Facts of the Case: Kedarnath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party Bihar, faced sedition charges for using derogatory language against the government, CID officers, and the Indian National Congress. He expressed revolutionary sentiments that aimed at overthrowing the establishment in favour of the downtrodden. His statements led to his one-year imprisonment.
- Legal Journey: Initially convicted in a single bench of the Patna High Court, the case reached the division bench of the Supreme Court. Since the issue revolved around the constitutional validity of Section 124A and Section 505 of the IPC, it was referred to the constitutional bench. The court had to consider two conflicting judgments from the Federal Court and the Privy Council.
Challenges to the Sedition Law:
The constitutionality of Section 124-A has been questioned in various legal cases. For instance, in the case of Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh, the High Court held Section 124-A to be ultra vires, asserting that it restricted freedom of speech in a manner not in the public interest. However, this decision was overruled in the Kedar Nath Singh case.
Key Issues and Decisions in Kedar Nath Singh:
- Issue 1: The primary concern was whether Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC were unconstitutional in light of Article 19(1)(a) (freedom of speech and expression) and Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
- Issue 2: Another significant issue was the interpretation of sedition. Did it require an intention to incite violence and public disorder, or was it enough to create disaffection or feelings of enmity against the government?
- Supreme Court’s Decision: The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of Sections 124A and 505 of the IPC. It emphasized that restrictions on freedom of speech were necessary for maintaining law and order and the security of the state. The court adopted the interpretation that sedition required both an intention to subvert the government through violent means and a tendency to incite violence or create public disorder.
Aftermath and Implications:
The Kedar Nath Singh decision has significantly influenced subsequent legal proceedings, emphasizing the importance of free speech while placing limitations on the state’s power to suppress it. The distinction between “advocacy” and “incitement” emerged, and the courts began to require clear links between the speech and potential public disorder or incitement to violence.
Subsequent judgments and developments, such as the striking down of Section 66A of the Information Technology Act in Shreya Singhal and the case of Dr. Binayak Sen v. State of Chhattisgarh, have highlighted the need for precise and constitutionally sound legislation. The court has been vigilant in protecting the right to free speech while curtailing any misuse of the law to stifle dissent.
The decision in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar is a crucial precedent, striking a balance between individual rights to free speech and the state’s need to maintain order and protect its integrity. While this judgment reaffirms the validity of Section 124-A, it also narrows its scope, setting out clear conditions for the offence of sedition. However, despite these legal safeguards, concerns persist regarding the misuse of the sedition law to silence voices of dissent, thus necessitating continuous vigilance and legal scrutiny.
We are a law firm in the name and style of Law Offices of Kr. Vivek Tanwar Advocate and Associates at Gurugram and Rewari. We are providing litigation support services for matters related to Sedition.