Criminal Appeal No. 169 of 1957
1962 AIR 955; 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769
Bhuvaneshwar Prasad Sinha, C.J., A.K. Sarkar, J.R. Madholkar, N. Rajagopala Ayyangar and S.K. Das, J
20th January 1962
The Indian Penal Code, 1860; The Indian Constitution of India, 1950
On 26 May 1953, the appellant, Kedarnath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party, delivered a speech in the village Barauni. He used the word ‘dogs’ for the CID officers commenting that they were loitering around and used the term Goondas for the members of the Indian Congress Party. He stated in his speech that the Congress Party was treating its people just like the Britishers. It was further stated by him that the money is being given by the Zamindars and capitalists to the members of the Congress Party and they’re being benefitted while the Kisans and Mazdoors are still suffering in society. He said that the Forward Communist Party believes in the revolution, which will arrive, engulf the capitalists, zamindars, and Congress leaders of India who have made it their business to plunder the nation, and on their ashes, a government of the country’s poor and oppressed citizens will be erected. He also targeted Vinobha Bhave’s land redistribution initiatives.
After the substantial oral evidence, the Trial Magistrate convicted Kedarnath Singh under Section 124A (sedition) and Section 505 (public mischief), of the Indian Penal Code and sentenced him to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a year. The convict approached the High Court of Patna and the issue was heard by late Mr. Justice Naqui Imam upheld the lower court’s decision and dismissed the appeal stating that the speech given by the appellant was certainly seditious. The Convict further moved to the Supreme Court of India through the special leave to appeal. The constitutional validity of the ss. 124A and 505 of IPC were questioned before the Division Bench on 5 May 1959, stating that those sections were inconsistent with Article 19 (1) (a) of the Constitution.
After reviewing the case’s judicial history, the Apex court was confronted by two conflicting rulings from the Federal Court in Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v. The King and The Privy Council in King-Emperor v. Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao. When referring to both decisions, the Supreme Court expressed its belief that if the Federal Court’s decision and interpretation were upheld, the challenged passages would fall under the purview of legal limitations on the freedom of expression’s fundamental rights. However, if the Privy Council’s ruling and interpretations are upheld, the challenged parts could be declared unconstitutional under Article 19(1)(a) read in conjunction with Article 19 (2) of the Constitution. By doing this, the disputed parts’ scope was constrained and their constitutional validity was confirmed in each of them. As a result, the appeal was denied, and the High Court was given the appeal of another connected matter.
- Whether ss. 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are ultra vires of Article 19(1)(a) read with Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution.
- Whether the intention of the accused is to create disorder, disaffection, or incitement to violence in order to be guilty of the offence of sedition law.
The Supreme Court stated that Article 19 (1) (a) is a fundamental right guaranteeing the freedom of free speech and expression with reasonable restrictions under the purview of clause (2) which consists – (a) security of the State, (b) friendly relations with foreign States, (c) public order, (d) decency or morality, etc. The constitutionality of the ss. 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are consistent with the requirements of clause 2 of Article 19 to punish the wrongdoer and protect the state and public order.
Section 124A states as follows, “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 hon’ble court further stated “the Government is established by law and it is the symbol of the state. Any seditious acts or spreading hatred or producing disaffection against the Government would be within the penal statute as the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by the law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of the actual violence or incitement to violence.”
The Court stated that it has to invalidate any law that unreasonably restricts the freedom of speech and expression that is at issue in this case because it is the custodian and guarantor of the citizens’ fundamental rights. However, the freedom must be protected from once more being used as a justification for denigrating and criticizing the legalized government in ways that incite violence or have the potential to cause a riot. A citizen is free to criticize or comment on the government or its policies as he sees fit, as long as he does not incite others to act violently against the legally established government or with the intent of causing a commotion. Therefore, it is the Court’s responsibility to draw a distinct line separating the scope of a citizen’s fundamental right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution from the legislature’s authority to impose reasonable restrictions on that right in the interest of, among other things, the security of the State and public order.
The court stated that clause (2) of Article 19 saves the Section from the vice of unconstitutionality. It is obvious that each of the elements that make up the s. 505 offense has anything to do with or has a direct impact on public order or state security. As a result, these clauses would not go beyond what could be considered legitimate limitations on the right to freedom of speech and expression. Therefore, the Supreme Court stated that the Criminal Appeal 169 of 1957 has to be dismissed and the Criminal Appeals 124-126 of 1958 would be remanded to the High Court to pass such order as it thinks fit and proper in the light of the interpretation given by them.
In a democratic nation like India, where the freedom of speech and expression is given a lot of importance, Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code seems like a hindrance or an obstacle that does not completely let the citizens of the nation exercise their fundamental right. Through the case of Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar, the supreme court has established a clear-cut reason why sedition shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle. In the aforementioned case, where Kedarnath Singh was commenting on the ruling government in a very bad way which would have paved the way to create chaos in the society, the court stated that citizens have a right to pass comments and their views upon the government and its working but it shall not disturb the public order or incitement of violence in the society.
Thus, the outcome of the judgment made it clear that Sedition i.e., 124A is intra vires and it is a reasonable restriction imposed by law. Given the recent circumstances, there are a lot of cases lodged under Section 124A, sedition. The importance given to the maintenance of law and order in the country should also be given to the protection of the freedom of speech and expression of the citizens. There are high chances that the persons in power can use these sections to infringe the fundamental rights of the individuals.
This article is written by K. Mihira Chakravarthy, 2nd year B.A. L.L.B. student from Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University (DSNLU).