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Sedition provision retained with new nomenclature under proposed penal law

The new bill widens the room for the government to interpret seditionary acts by neither including the incitement to violence test nor connecting the act to public order.
shish Tripathi
Last Updated : 12 August 2023, 14:20 IST
Last Updated : 12 August 2023, 14:20 IST

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Contrary to claims made by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, a look at the proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) Bill, 2023, suggests that sedition has been retained with a new nomenclature and includes the call for armed rebellion and separatist activities under its definition.

Besides, the offence of sedition has been given a more extensive definition of what will constitute “acts endangering sovereignty, unity and integrity of India”. The existing Section 124A of IPC had the words “disaffection towards the Government established by law in India”.

The new provision has been inducted as Section 150 of the bill.

In comparison with old Section 124A of the IPC (sedition law), the new provision extensively defines acts endangering "the sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India". The proposed Section 150 criminalises any act that “excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities”, rather than "incitement to violence" or the "disruption of public order" - conditions precedent to invoke the charges presently. It also widens the room for the government to interpret seditionary acts by neither including the incitement to violence test nor connecting the act to public order. Also, the proposed section targets separatism, secession, and subversive activities - without using the phrase "hatred for the government of India".

It reads, “Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial mean, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities, or encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commits any such act shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine”.

This new section penalises an individual who indulges in or commits any act endangering the "sovereignty or unity and integrity of India", by giving discretion to law enforcement agencies for the purpose of charging a person under the offence.

Section 124A of IPC (sedition law) reads as: “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 Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

The new proposed bill has removed "hatred" or "contempt" from its definition but specifically targets "secessionism", separatism, and "armed rebellion". Further, the new Section 150 has included “electronic communication” and “use of financial means” as tools that can be used to endanger the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India.

The existing Sedition law under the IPC allows a convicted person to get away with only a fine. However the new proposed Section 150 says the act “shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine”.

In June of this year, the Law Commission of India had made a recommendation enhancing the jail term to seven years from the present three under the IPC.

The Supreme Court is also seized of a batch of petitions challenging the validity of Section 124A in the IPC. The old sedition law is currently on hold due to a continuing interim order of the top court passed on May 11 of last year.

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Published 12 August 2023, 14:20 IST

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