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‘Detained for wanting to recite Hanuman Chalisa’, AG urges SC to lay down guidelines on sedition law

New Delhi, May 5, 2022- Attorney General K.K. Venugopal on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to lay down guidelines to prevent the misuse of the sedition law while citing the case of Maharashtra’s Rana couple, who were arrested for threatening to protest outside Uddhav Thackeray’s private residence.

Venugopal told the Supreme Court that sedition law is valid, and its misuse has been controlled, however he urged the court to lay down guidelines to prevent its misuse. He also opposed the reference of the cases against sedition law to a larger bench.

The AG defended before the Court the constitutional validity of Section 124A and the 1962 judgment of the top court in the Kedar Nath Singh case.

The Attorney General (AG) submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana, “misuse (of the sedition law) is controlled…the question of reference (of Kedar Nath Singh case to a larger bench) does not arise. The Kedar Nath judgment is very balanced in view of freedom of speech and security of state…”

The AG urged the top court to retain the particular section (124 A) and lay down guidelines to prevent its misuse of the law.

“You’ve seen what’s happening in the country…someone was detained as they wanted to recite Hanuman Chalisa, they’ve been released on bail…the single most important thing is what is permissible and what is not permissible… this is very important,” the AG submitted before the bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.

MP Navneet Rana and her husband Ravi Rana, were arrested for threatening to protest outside Uddhav Thackeray’s private residence ‘Matoshree’ over the escalating Hanuman Chalisa row in the state. Opposing the sedition law, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, representing a petitioner, submitted, “colonial masters are gone, we are masters of our own destiny…we are free…no longer subjects of the crown.”

The bench pointed out that many petitioners have sought a direction to refer the matter to a larger bench and asked the parties to submit their written responses.

The top court scheduled the matter for further hearing on Tuesday on the point of referring the petitions against the sedition law to a larger bench.

The top court gave the last chance to the Centre to file its response in the matter by Monday and added that no further extension will be granted. At the outset, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, seeking an extension to file the counter affidavit, submitted that the draft is ready but it is awaiting approval from the competent authority. The top court had issued notice to the AG, seeking his assistance in the matter.

The Supreme Court had in the Kedar Nath Singh case clarified that only those acts, which involved incitement to violence or violence, constituted a seditious act under Section 124 A of the IPC.

The top court was hearing petitions filed by Major General S.G. Vombatkere (retd) and the Editors Guild of India and others, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Vombatkere’s plea argued that a statute criminalising expression based on unconstitutionally vague definitions of ‘disaffection towards government’, etc., is an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and causes constitutionally impermissible ‘chilling effect’ on the speech.  (Agency)

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