Former Supreme Court judge M B Lokur Saturday said that the May 11 order of the top court on sedition is “important” even as he voiced his concern over misuse of a provision in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act saying it will be like “jumping from frying pan to fire”.
Speaking at a function ‘Sedition Se Azadi’, he sought to explain the meaning of the interim order passed by the top court which had put on hold the colonial-era sedition law till an “appropriate” government forum re-examines it and directed the Centre and states to not register any fresh FIR invoking the offence.
“I do not know what the government will do about the provision of sedition but in my opinion it will remove it. But equally concerning is that there is a parallel provision of section 13 in UAPA which says whoever intends to cause or intends to cause disaffection against India,” Lokur said.
“In sedition it is disaffection against the government but in UAPA provision it is disaffection against India, this is the only difference. In sedition, there were certain exceptions where seditious charges cannot be applied but under section 13 of UAPA there are no exceptions. If this provision remains, then it will be like jumping from a fry pan to fire,” he added.
The former judge said what the State will think as disaffection is not clearly defined is very dangerous as getting bail under the UAPA is tough.
He said that in its May 11 order, the Supreme Court had stayed the ongoing investigation into the sedition cases and had put the pending trials and all proceedings under the sedition law across the country in abeyance.
“This status quo on pending trial and on all proceedings under the sedition law across the country is a damaging part. Suppose a person who is innocent but booked falsely under sedition and wants the trial to be completed, then he has to wait for some time. Similarly, if anyone is convicted under sedition and has filed an appeal against his conviction, then he too will have to wait till such status quo is removed,” he said.
Lokur said it would have been better had this status quo not been ordered by the apex court and instead it should have devised a mechanism to provide relief to such people.
He referred to a young climate change activist Disha Ravi, whose passport was withheld and could not go to Copenhagen to attend a summit because she was booked for sedition charges.
“People, who are at the receiving end of the sedition provision, need to have some protection, because if their trial is stayed then they will have to wait indefinitely for a decision to come. This status quo order may create some problem,” he said.
Similarly activist lawyer Vrinda Groverm, who had appeared in the sedition matter before the top court for two women journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin who along with other petitioners have challenged the provision before the top court, termed the May 11 order as important and significant .
Grover said petitioners like Mukhim and Bhasin believe that sedition law affects the freedom of press and keeping it in abeyance is a significant step.
She said that when sedition provision was added into the IPC it was a non-cognizable offence but later it became cognizable offence.
Human rights activist Gladson Dungdung, who also addressed on the issue, referred to the ‘Pathalgarhi’ movement which took place in tribal areas of Jharkhand after which he claimed that 11,109 people were booked under the sedition charges.
The word ‘Pathalgadi’ comes from a tribal word used in areas of Jharkhand where a stone plaque is erected to announce an important decision of a village or mark the boundary.
He said that out of 30 cases registered by the police in 21 of them sedition charges were slapped against the tribal people out of which a charge sheet was filed on 138 people.
Dungdung said that they along with other civil society organisations and members have been able to pressurise the government to take back these cases and some of the cases have been taken back.
Similarly, anti-nuclear activist SP Udayakumaran highlighted his experience when he was booked under sedition charges and said that people in society including his relatives would not like to associate with him during the struggle days and they even taunted him and his family.
The event, organised by NGOs Anhad and Satark Nagrik Sanghathan, was moderated by RTI activist Anjali Bhardwaj. (PTI)