KK Venugopal, India’s Attorney General, told the Supreme Court on Thursday that Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises sedition, does not need to be repealed, and that guidelines can be drafted to prevent misuse of the law.
The AG stated that the 1962 Kedar Nath judgement, which upheld Section 124A by reading it down, did not need to be reconsidered because it was a “well reasoned decision that balanced free expression with national security.”
A bench consisting of Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant, and Justice Hima Kohli was considering a slew of petitions brought by journalists, activists, NGOs, and politicians challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
When the matter was taken up, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta requested more time to file the Union Government’s counter-affidavit. Although the draught reply has been produced by attorneys, the SG stated that it is awaiting permission from the “relevant authorities.”
The Attorney General however said that he is ready to argue the matter. “Your lordships had issued notice to me. I am ready”, the AG said (the Court had sought the assistance of the Attorney General in the matter while issuing notice in the petition).
“The learned AG will assist in the capacity of the Attorney General. I appear for the Central Government and the Central Government will have to file its counter”, the Solicitor General said.
“Notice has been issued to me as the AG”, Venugopal submitted.
“But the SG is seeking adjournment”, the CJI said.
“My stand may be different”, the AG said.
“The AG is not aware”, SG said.
“Let the AG submit. I don’t want to give an impression he wasn’t given a chance to argue”, the CJI said.
When the bench sought the AG’s view of the matter, he said: “Kedar Nath is a well reasoned judgement balancing free speech and national security. So the section will have to be kept and Kedarnath will remain in force. Misuse has to be controlled”.
The Attorney General also mentioned the recent FIRS for sedition filed by Maharashtra police against opposition leaders Navneet Rana and Ravi Rana over the Hanuman Chalisa chanting controversy.