The Supreme Court of India on June 3, 2021, quashed the sedition case registered against journalist Vinod Dua in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh after a year of an FIR lodged by a local BJP leader over Dua’s YouTube show.
BJP Mahasu unit President Ajay Shyam lodged a complaint against Dua stating that the journalist made allegations on his YouTube show on March 30 accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using ‘deaths and terror attacks’ to garner votes. Dua was charged under sections 268, (public nuisance), 124A (sedition), 505 (statements conducive to public mischief), and 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory).
A bench of justices Vineet Saran and U U Lalit on October 6, 2020, had reserved the verdict after hearing the arguments for Vinod Dua, the complainant, and the Himachal Pradesh government. The bench stated that ‘Every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgement, the landmark verdict of 1962 on the scope of offense of sedition in the IPC.”
In 1962, the Supreme Court while upholding the validity of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC had ruled that sedition charges cannot be invoked against a citizen on the grounds of criticism against the measures or actions of Government as it would stifle the right to freedom of speech and expression.
Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962)
• In 1952, Kedar Nath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party from Bihar was convicted and imprisoned on sedition charges after he made a fiery speech against the then ruling Congress during a rally at Begusarai.
• Singh then made an appeal to the Supreme Court in 1962 questioning the constitutional validity of Section 124A. He contended that his right to free speech under Article 19 of the Constitution was compromised.
• The Court was faced with a difficult task due to conflicting interpretations of Section 124A laid down by British era courts. The two previous judgements, one from 1942 and another from 1947, had contrasting views about the tendency to disturb public order or the incitement to violence were offenses under Section 124A.
What was the historic judgment in Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962)?
• A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court passed a landmark verdict upholding the validity of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC but simultaneously limiting the scope of offense of sedition in the IPC laid down by British-era law by stating that which acts count for sedition and which don’t.
• The five-judges bench comprising Chief Justice BP Sinha, and Justices SK Das, N Rajagopala Ayyangar, JR Mudholkar, and AK Sarkar said that any act that has the effect to subvert the Government by violence or creating public disorder would be counted as sedition. The bench also upheld Section 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) as a constitutionally valid offense.
• The Bench ruled that acts, within Section 124A, that create the feeling of contempt or hatred or disaffection or disloyalty against the Government would be given penal statute. Any spoken or written words that give out the idea of subverting the Government by violent means, which are included in the word ‘revolution’ would attract penal offense.
• However, the top court also ruled that comments expressing disapproval about the measures of government, with a view to improvement or alteration by lawful means, without inciting feelings of violence, disloyalty, or enmity are not sedition.
• The top court ruled further that a citizen has a right to write or say whatever he or she likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, as long as he or she does not create public disorder or incite people to violence against the Government established by law.
• However, in the case of Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962), the top Court while upholding the validity of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC, rejected the appeal of Kedar Nath on the grounds that his speech was a vilification of the Government filled with incitement to revolution and was not just criticizing the measures of the Government.