Haryana Police respond to the CJI by booking 100 farm leaders for sedition
Dissenters continue to be booked under the sedition law and even section 66A of the IT Act, struck down in 2014, by the police, vindicating the apex court's apprehension that laws are being misused
The day Chief Justice of India, N V Ramana questioned if the “sedition law which was used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi was still needed after 75 years of Independence”, Haryana Police, it was reported, had booked 100 farmers for sedition. They had allegedly obstructed public servants in the discharge of their duty, made allegedly a murderous attempt on an elected representative and allegedly damaged public property
Sirsa police on Thursday arrested five people days after lodging an FIR, which included a sedition charge, over an alleged attack on the Haryana deputy speaker's car during a farmers' protest. Ever since the farmers announced their programme to obstruct BJP leaders' public functions, Haryana police have booked hundreds of farmers and among other sections of the IPC, charged them with sedition.
Farmers had publicly announced their agitational plan long back. They have been resorting to what they call 'peaceful Satyagrah'. While police were within their rights to book people for obstructing public servants or for apprehension of breach of peace, the inclusion of sedition among the charges appears designed to initimidate and enhance the gravity of the offence in the eyes of the court. This appears to vindicate the observation of the CJI-led court which said, “The enormous power of misuse of this section [124-A] is like giving a carpenter a saw...he cuts down the forest. That’s the power of misuse of this law.”
The farmers were framed for sedition after deputy speaker Ranbir Gangwa complained that agitators had pelted his vehicle with stones. Haryana Police at Sirsa used the sedition law to break the morale of the farmers and intimidate them. In this backdrop the observation of court is worth recalling; “Our concern is the misuse of this law and the accountability of agencies in using it. There is a serious threat of misuse.”
There is no denying that there is a need to take into account the "march of the times and the development of the law" before dealing with Section 124-A. Earlier, a separate bench of the SC had sought response from the Centre on a plea challenging the Constitutional validity of sedition law, filed by two journalists.
Haryana Police is ready to implicate more farmers who were allegedly present when the Deputy Speaker was allegedly obstructed. The state government had taken a serious view of the incident and it had replaced the district police chief Bhupender Singh with Dr Arpit Jain while suspending an Inspector-rank official.
The apex court rightly felt that the law has been indiscriminately used to silence critics and protestors. The bench headed by Chief justice N V Ramana and comprising Justices AS Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy wondered why the Union Government, which is repealing stale laws, was not getting rid of this provision. The CJI added that there was "minimal conviction or very low rate of conviction" in the history of the law.
The Supreme Court's observation came days after Justice D.Y. Chandrachud made similar comments saying that criminal laws, including anti-terror legislations, should not be misused to quell dissent or harass citizens.
The sedition law under IPC Section 124A is being frequently used by central and state governments to stifle any view critical of the dispensation in power. There has also been a growing tendency to brand dissenters as 'anti-nationals'.
That the police often acts without much application of the mind is not a secret. Although Section 66A of the IT Act was declared illegal and scrapped long back, police continued to frame innocent people under it. This forced the Supreme Court to voice its dismay at over 1,000 cases filed in different states by invoking the outlawed Section 66A of the IT Act - a controversial law that allowed authorities to arrest individuals for posting "offensive" content online - which was struck down seven years ago.
The Chief Justice of India noted that during colonial rule the British used the law as a tool of political repression; “It was an enterprise famous for ‘rule by law’, rather than “rule of law” as it aimed at controlling Indian subjects. Judicial remedies lost their significance as they were administered keeping in view the best interests of the colonial power, rather than what was just or legal”.
But trust police in 2021 to continue invoking repressive colonial laws and even laws declared illegal to harass dissenters and protesters.
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