Arun Shourie joins against sedition law tussle in Pinnacle court

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Advocate Prashant Bhushan demand urgent hearing, but no firm assurance from CJI Ramana

The NGO Common Cause and veteran journalist and former Union minister Arun Shourie on Thursday joined the chorus within the Supreme Court for striking down as unconstitutional the sedition law, alleging its increasing misuse by governments against citizens.

The apex court has already listed for hearing on May 5 and 6 a bunch of comparable petitions challenging the continuance of the British-era law within the statues. However, a joint petition filed by Shourie and customary Cause in July last year has not been clubbed with them or listed separately.

On Thursday, advocate Prashant Bhushan mentioned the petition for urgent hearing. However, justice of India N.V. Ramana didn't give any firm assurance.

The top court had on Wednesday asked the Centre to form its stance on the sedition law’s continuance clear by this weekend and said it might not grant to any extent further adjournments and get rid of the matter finally after the May 5-6 hearings.

Shourie, a former BJP leader, and customary Cause have alleged that the sedition law — Section 124A of the legal code — violates the elemental rights of equality, free speech, and life and private liberty.

They want the apex court to revisit its 1962 judgment in Kedarnath Singh vs State of Bihar where it had upheld the sedition law’s constitutional validity.

Their petition says the apex court had at the time read down the supply to mention: “A citizen contains a right to say or write whatever he likes about the govt., or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, farewell as he doesn't incite people to violence against the govt. established by law or with the intention of making public disorder.”

According to the petitioners, the apex court had since then in Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India (2018) and Joseph Shine v Union of India (2019) held that the presumption of constitutionality doesn't apply to pre-constitutional laws framed by foreign legislatures or bodies.

“Therefore, seeable of the above it's submitted that the doctrine of ‘reading down’ in absence of presumption of constitutionality can not be pressed into service of Section 124A of legal code, 1860, whose language is otherwise plain and clear,” the petition says.

According to the sedition law: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the govt. established by law in (India), shall be punished with (imprisonment for life), to which fine could also be added, or with imprisonment which can touch three years, to which fine could also be added, or with fine.”