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PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the Central government to file its response on petitions demanding striking down the sedition law by the end of this week. The top court will take up the matter for hearing on May 5.

Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, submitted before a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana that the reply on the petitions is almost ready and sought two days to finalise before filing it in the court.

The bench, also comprising Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, recorded that the Centre will file the reply by the end of this week and listed the matter for final disposal on May 5.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal also appeared before the bench since the court had issued a notice to him. The AG said that he will assist the court in the matter. The Chief Justice said that no adjournment will be granted in this matter, which was last heard in July last year.

The top court was hearing petitions filed by Major General (retd) S.G. Vombatkere, the Editors Guild of India and others challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Vombatkere's plea argued that a statute criminalising expression based on unconstitutionally vague definitions of 'disaffection towards government' etc. is an unreasonable restriction on the fundamental right to free expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) and causes constitutionally impermissible 'chilling effect' on the speech.

In July last year, the top court had questioned the Centre on the utility of having a sedition law even after 75 years of gaining Independence from the British, and also frowned on the misuse of the law by the police against the people.

At that time, a bench headed by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana told the AG: "It is a colonial law used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, (Bal Gangadhar) Tilak. Still, is it necessary after 75 years of Independence? I am indicating what I am thinking."

Citing the example of continued usage of Section 66A of IT Act, which was quashed but abused to arrest thousands for airing their views, the top court pointed out that sedition law (Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code) is also not immune to misuse by police to fix persons who speak against the government.

"It is like you give a saw to a carpenter and he will cut the entire forest. This is the impact of this law," the Chief Justice said.

The AG replied that he completely understands the concern of the top court and submitted that the court can lay down fresh guidelines to restrict the use of the sedition provision only for protection of nation and democratic institutions, instead of taking out the entire law.

The Chief Justice said the situation on the ground is grave, and if one party does not like what the other is saying, Section 124A is used.

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