• Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, in what may be an unprecedented judicial criticism of the way the sedition law is used by the government to crush liberties, asked why a colonial law used against Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak continued to survive in the law book 75 years after Independence.


  • “Sedition is a colonial law. It suppresses freedoms.
  • It was used against Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak… Is this law necessary after 75 years of Independence?” Chief Justice Ramana, heading a three-judge Bench, orally addressed Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal and Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre.
  • The CJI said the sedition law, or Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, was prone to misuse by the government. “The use of sedition is like giving a saw to the carpenter to cut a piece of wood and he uses it to cut the entire forest itself.”
  • The CJI’s oral statement in open court takes a significant note amid rising public denouncement of Central and State law enforcement agencies using the law to silence dissent, muzzle free expression and deny bail to jailed activists, journalists, students and civil society members.
  • A number of petitions have been filed highlighting the “chilling effect” sedition has on the fundamental right of free speech.
  • The CJI’s remarks have also opened the floor for debate and introspection on the court’s own verdict in 1962, in the Kedar Nath case, which upheld Section 124A.


  • The CJI drew the attention of the Attorney General to the conviction rates under sedition. “If you look at the history of use of this Section 124A of IPC, you will find that the conviction rate is very low. There is misuse of power by executive agencies,” the Chief Justice said.
  • The CJI asked the government why it did not throw out the sedition law along with the hundreds of “stale laws” it had expunged from the statute books. “Your government is taking out a lot of stale laws from the law books, why have they not looked into this,” Chief Justice Ramana asked Mr. Venugopal. People had suffered and were scared of the misuse of the sedition law, Chief Justice Ramana said.
  • We are not blaming any particular government or State. But do look at how Section 66A of the Information Technology Act is continuing to be used and there is no accountability for all this.


  • The CJI said the sweeping powers of Section 124A gives even a village police officer carte blanche to trample on the right to liberty and free speech of ordinary citizens.
  • “If a police officer wants to fix anybody in a village for something, he can use Section 124A. People are scared. Our concern is misuse of the law and the lack of accountability. Why has it continued in the statute book even after 75 years of our Independence
  • The Chief Justice said the Supreme Court would “definitely look into this Section 124A”.
  • The situation on the ground is grave, If one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used. It is a serious threat to the functioning of individuals and parties.
  • Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana’s remarks in open court on Thursday sends a strong message to the government that the Supreme Court is prima facie convinced that sedition is being misused by the authorities to trample upon citizens’ fundamental rights of free speech and liberty.
  • The Chief Justice has sent a clear signal that Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code may have passed its time.
  • The CJI has made it clear that the court is sensitive to the public demand to judicially review the manner in which law enforcement authorities are using the sedition law to control free speech and send journalists, activists and dissenters to jail, and keep them there.
  • This is a step away from the court’s own Kedar Nath judgment of 1962 which had upheld Section 124A but read it down to mean any subversion of an elected government by violent means.
  • The court will have to re-examine whether this 59-year-old judgment holds in the modern context when the State is itself using a punitive law to impose serious burdens on free speech.
  • The CJI’s reference to low conviction rates under the sedition law resonates with a petition filed by senior journalist Sashi Kumar, highlighting the “dramatic jump in charging a person with the offence of sedition since 2016”.
  • “In 2019, 93 cases were on the ground of sedition as compared to the 35 cases that were filed in 2016.
  • The same constitutes a 165% increase. Of these 93 cases, chargesheets were filed in a mere 17% of cases and even worse, the conviction rate was an abysmally low 3.3%.
  • The National Crime Records Bureau reports show that in 2019, 21 cases of sedition were closed on account of no evidence, two were closed for being false cases and six cases held to be civil disputes.


  • The CJI’s observations culminates the resolve shown by the court in recent months to examine the sedition law.
  • In May, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said “it is time to define the limits of sedition”. The judge had flagged the indiscriminate use of the sedition law against people who aired their grievances about the government’s COVID management, or even for seeking help to gain medical access, equipment, drugs and oxygen cylinders, especially during the second wave of the pandemic.
  • “This is muzzling the media,” Justice L. Nageswara Rao, another Supreme Court judge, had noted while considering a plea made by two TV channels, TV5 and ABN, against the Andhra Pradesh government for using the sedition law to “silence” them.
  • Justice U.U. Lalit, in his recent judgment quashing a sedition case against Mr. Dua for his alleged remarks about the Prime Minister and the Union Government in a YouTube telecast, upheld the right of every journalist to criticise, even brutally, the measures of the government with a view to improve or alter them through legal means.
  • The time is long past when the mere criticism of governments was sufficient to constitute sedition. The right to utter honest and reasonable criticism is a source of strength to a community rather than a weakness.

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