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NEW DELHI: Government on Wednesday acknowledged that the definition of Sedition law is “very wide” and said it is being reviewed by the Law Commission after members in Rajya Sabha demanded that it should be scrapped as it is a colonial legacy and a “relic”.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh agreed for an all-party meeting to discuss the issue after the Law Commission submits its report on the law which has come under focus in the wake of JNU controversy. The government also rejected Opposition charge that it was rampantly using the law and pointed out that except the one case of JNU, sedition cases have mostly been registered outside Delhi.
‘Definition is very wide’
“Anbody, who speaks against the government can be booked under sedition law. Amendments have been suggested because the definition is very wide…there are various cases. That is why concerns were have been raised. I would like the ask the Law Commission to consider a very comprehensive review,” Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said in replying to questions. Rajnath Singh added that the “Law Commission is carrying out a review regarding this law. Our government has said that they should submit the report as soon as possible.” Rijiju said the Law Commission, in its 42nd report, had noted that the sedition law is “defective” but did not favour its deletion.
He said that in another report also, the Commission sought a change in the defintion of sedition but did not favour the scrapping of the law. Asked whether any timeframe has been fixed for the Law Commission to submit its report, Rijiju said the Home Ministry has from time to time written to Ministry of Law and Justice to speed up the process.
Rejecting Opposition charge that the NDA government was rampantly using the law, Rijiju said, “It is registered in Telangana not Delhi”, alluding to the sedition case lodged against Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal.
Quoting figures from a report of National Crime Records Bureau, he said a total of 47 cases under the sedition law were reported across the country in 2014 of which the maximum 16 cases were registered in Bihar in which 28 arrests were made.
“The second highest is Jharkhand,” he said adding that Kerala and Odissa follow them in the descending order. He said that while the Opposition is directly accusing the government of taking action against the students, the fact is that some cases have also been registered against politicians.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said given the wide definition of the sedition law as pointed out by the minister “half of the parties of the country will be anti-national if there is a ban on speaking against the government.” He also wondered whether those engaged in “communal divide” will also be brought under the ambit of sedition law after review.
Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said this was a law made by the Britishers and the government should get rid of this “colonial legacy”. “This should be scrapped,” he insisted. Yadav also sought an all-party meeting to discuss the sedition law, to which the Home Minister said, “we will do it after the Law Commission gives its report.” Singh also expressed agreement with Azad’s contention for tough action against those fanning communal divide.
“We are in cent percent agreement with the view of the Leader of Opposition that there should be tough action against those creating communal divide. Standing in this House, I appeal to all state governments to take tough action against those trying to wage communal divides,” the Home Minister said.
Azad said the issue of sedition was never talked about in past in the manner it has been discussed for last few days.
“Except the incident of Delhi, there is no incident at any other place, which shows any such intention of NDA and BJP,” the minister said. D Raja (CPI) said the 124 (A) Indian Penal Code under which one is charged with sedition is a “relic”. He said he had brought a private members’ bill in 2011 demnanding the deletion of the sedition law.
Raja asked “what is the justification of slapping sedition charge against (JNU Students union leader) Kanhaiya Kumar and other students. We are demanding the scrapping of the sedition law. I am asking the Home Minister to answer this question directly. What is the justification of slapping sedition charges against the students.”
Rijiju said that often it is found that the sedition charge was found violative of section 19 A. On the specific issue of the JNU row, he said it is “sub-judice and there is already a case going on.”
Rijiju says he is not defending Delhi Police
Rijiju said since the JNU case is sub-judice, its pros and cons should not be debated. He, however, hastened to add “I am not defending the action of the Delhi Police. I am just stating the facts.” In the written reply, he said the Indian Penal Code was promulgated in 1860 and section 124A of the IPC related to sedition was inserted in IPC in 1870 through an amendment.
“In October 2012, a request was made by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Law and Justice to study the usage of the provisions of the section 124A of IPC and suggest amendments, if any, so that necessary steps can be taken in this regard.
“The Ministry of Law and Justice requested the Law Commission to consider a comprehensive review of the criminal laws of the country. On December 11 in 2014, the Law Commission intimated that they have identified certain focus areas and formed subgroups to deliberate on such areas, in the context of comprehensive review of criminal laws,” he said.