CONSTITUTIONAL VALIDITY OF SECTION 124A

The Daily Guardian

In my last piece, I had continued with my discussion on Section 124A of the IPC with reference to Constituent Assembly Debates to demonstrate that the framers of the Constitution were aware of the limitations imposed on the interpretation of the provision by British Indian Courts. This awareness led to the replacement of the term ‘sedition’ by Shri K. M. Munshi in Draft Article 13 of the Draft Constitution, which later became Article 19, with the words “which undermines the security of, or tends to overthrow, the State”. Shri Munshi underscored the point that the only reason for the replacement was to ensure against misuse of sedition and not to give free pass to acts against the State (which was distinguished from the government). Following are a few more relevant excerpts from the Debates of December 1, 1948:

“Shri K. M. Munshi: I was pointing out that the word ‘sedition’ has been a word of varying import and has created considerable doubt in the minds of not only the members of this House but of Courts of law all over the world. Its definition has been very simple and given so far back as 1868. It says “Sedition embraces all those practices whether by word or deed or writing which are calculated to disturb the tranquility of the State and lead ignorant persons to subvert the Government”. But in practice it has had a curious fortune. A hundred and fifty years ago in England, holding a meeting or conducting a procession was considered sedition. Even holding an opinion against, which will bring ill-will towards Government, was considered sedition once. Our notorious Section 124-A of Penal Code was sometimes construed so widely that I remember in a case a criticism of a District Magistrate was urged to be covered by Section 124-A. But the public opinion has changed considerably since and now that we have a democratic Government a line must be drawn between criticism of Government which should be welcome and incitement which would undermine the security or order on which civilized life is based, or which is calculated to overthrow the State. Therefore the word ‘sedition’ has been omitted. As a matter of fact the essence of democracy is criticism of Government.

The party system which necessarily involves an advocacy of the replacement of one Government by another is its only bulwark; the advocacy of a different system of Government should be welcome because that gives vitality to a democracy. The object therefore of this amendment is to make a distinction between the two positions. Our Federal Court also in the case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar Vs King, in III and IV Federal Court Reports, has made a distinction between what ‘Sedition’ meant when the Indian Penal Code was enacted and ‘Sedition’ as understood in 1942. A passage from the judgment of the Chief Justice of India would make the position, as to what is an offence against the State at present, clear. It says at page 50:

“This (sedition) is not made an offence in order to minister to the wounded vanity of Governments but because where Government and the law ceases to be obeyed because no respect is felt any longer for them, only anarchy can follow. Public disorder, or the reasonable anticipation or likelihood of public disorder is thus the gist of the offence. The acts or words complained of must either incite to disorder or must be such as to satisfy reasonable men that that is their intention or tendency.”

This amendment therefore seeks to use words which properly answer to the implication of the word ‘Sedition’ as understood by the present generation in a democracy and therefore there is no substantial change; the equivocal word ‘sedition’ only is sought to be deleted from the article. Otherwise an erroneous impression would be created that we want to perpetuate 124-A of the I.P.C. or its meaning which was considered good law in earlier days. Sir, with these words, I move this amendment.”

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