In the Supreme Court of India (1995) 3 SCC 214 Appellants Balwant Singh & anr. Respondents State of Punjab Date of Judgement 1 March, 1995 Bench Justice. A.S. Anand, Justice Faizan Uddin
India has seen many instances where the sedition laws have been misused by the State against journalists, students, activists, teachers, and others to curb any negative opinion or any disproving activity against it. The fact can be backed up by data released by the NCRB (National Crime Records Bureau) to check the authenticity of sedition cases being filed during the time period of 2014 to 2016. Under the title ‘ offenses against the State,’ the report showed a total of 179 arrests for sedition. However, no charge sheets were filed by the police in over 70% of the cases, and only two convictions during this time period.This gave a much needed reality check to the existence of Sedition Law in India to date which initially only invoked by the Britishers to use as a means to oppress India.
Also, the laws are vague enough to make facts sustain its provisions to file a case which then leaves a case to the different interpretations and analyses of the court. The following case is also an example reinstating the vague nature of sedition laws and how it can lead to the formation of cases on whims and fancies of the investigating officers.
Laws and Statutory Provisions involved :
- Section 124-A and 153-A of the IPC (Indian Penal Code, 1860).
- Section 51 of CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973).
- Section 14 of the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984.
Balwant Singh, Director of Public Instructions (DPI) in Punjab, Chandigarh, and Bhupendra Singh, Senior clerk in the Punjab School Education Board, Chandigarh were arrested at about 5:45 pm near the Neelam Cinema after conducting a thorough investigation on the grounds of committing offenses under section 124(A) and 153(A) of IPC. They were sentenced to serve a year of rigorous imprisonment and a fine of Rs.500 each. In any default of the payment of fine, the sentence of rigorous imprisonment was to increase by three months. This case before Supreme Court is an appeal under Section 14 of the Terrorist Affected Areas (Special Courts) Act, 1984 challenging both of the appellant’s conviction and sentence as given by the learned Judge of the Special Court, Chandigarh on 2.3.1985.
The appellants were arrested on the alleged claim that after their duties were over, they started shouting slogans in a crowded area near the place they were arrested from. This was on the date of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. The police officers, the two prosecution witnesses Som Nath and ASI Labh Singh who were on their patrolling duty along with their senior officials who carried out the arrest, corroborated the same. The witnesses also said that the slogans did not affect the normal life of people around and everyone carried out their routine activities. Though some people, they claimed, left the place out of fear but couldn’t prove this fact on further questioning.
The facts as stated by the appellants were after leaving their offices at about 5 pm, they met Mewa Singh and Surinder Pal Singh, the defense witnesses and exchanged a greeting, while going towards the bus stand, to proceed for going home in Mohali. This is when Deputy S.P. Sudhir Mohan and Inspector Baldev Singh caught hold of them, which they presumed to be a consequence of wearing a kirpan and not having tied their beards. The same was corroborated by the defense witnesses.
Personal search warrants and personal search memos were prepared at the time of the arrest of the appellants where only, an HMT watch and one gold ring were seized, with no mention of the kirpan being present. The prosecution witnesses verified the same. On the other hand in the statement given by Mr. Shitla Prasad, Munshi of District Jail, Defense witness 1, it was mentioned that at the time of admission into jail Kirpan was confiscated from the appellant and was safely deposited with them. So their testimonies didn’t corroborate.
- Whether raising certain casual slogans by two lonesome individuals without carrying out any overt act and with no intention to incite violence or create disorder attracts the application of Section 124-A and 153-A of IPC?
- Whether the trial court justified in inferring the fact that the alleged accused was supplied with kirpan on his from Police station to District jail after the omission of the mention of kirpan under investigation carried out through personal search warrant and memo under Section 51 of CrPC?
- It was submitted by the learned counsel, Mr. V.M. Tarkunde, that the prosecution has not been able to make a case against the appellants beyond a reasonable doubt. It was repeatedly mentioned throughout that the incident occurred in a crowded place and still the prosecution was not able to associate any independent person present there to testify in their favor. This was stated as a severe infirmity in their case.
- It was then submitted that the two prime witnesses of the prosecution, Som Nath and Labh Singh made an unsuccessful effort to hide the fact that Balwant Singh was carrying the kirpan, the fact which was later validated by the evidence of DW1 Munshi of the District Jail. It was subsequently stated that the prosecution witnesses were guilty of falsely testifying before the court and that the entire case was a made-up affair against the appellants.
- It was alternatively submitted that even if the appellants had raised the slogans as alleged by the prosecution, it would not have made a successful case under section 124-A and 153-A of IPC as there was no public discord and no mens rea to incite violence involved.
- It was submitted that given the prevailing circumstances at the time i.e the date of assassination of Indira Gandhi, the activities carried out by the Appellants constituted to the crime under Sections 124-A and 153-A of IPC. The mere fact that prosecution was not able to associate any individual does not lead to denial of the reliable evidence given by Constable Som Nath and ASI Labh Singh. It was further stated that despite several efforts made by Labh Singh, no one was ready to associate with a police case.
- The Counsel also urged that no facts have been brought forward to show any trace of animosity between the prosecution witnesses and the appellants to falsely implicate a crime against them.
Ratio Decidendi :
- It was held that the casual raising of slogans by two random individuals without any other overt activity attached, like carrying out a procession, which did not lead to any disruption of Public order and no intention of causing violence cannot be said to be invoking an offense as serious sedition. There was no hindrance in normal activities of people of either the Sikh community or any other community and the police should have avoided attaching so much significance to the casual slogans raised by the appellants. A plain reading of the section, as noted by the Court, shows that it can be applied only when accused brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, by words either written or spoken or visible signs or representations, etc. Concludingly, there was no offense committed under Section 124-A of IPC.
- Concerning to the offense committed under Section 153-A of IPC, in Court’s opinion, it can only be invoked where the written or spoken words have the tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order or effect public tranquility, that the law needs to step in to prevent such an activity; wherein present case, the facts distinctively show that there was no disturbance or semblance of disturbance of law and order or of public order or peace and tranquility in the area from where the appellants were apprehended while raising slogans on account of the activities of the appellants. Subsequently, there is no mens rea proved on the appellants’ part. Therefore no offense committed under the particular section.
- The previous decision of the trial court was set aside in which it took cognizance of the fact that Kirpan was supplied to Balwant Singh while he was being taken from Magistrate’s office to jail. The Supreme Court stated that the reasoning behind the same does not make any sense that someone from the public would have such easy access to a person in police custody, to be able to arm him with as kirpan, without the police escort knowing about it. It was further noted that it is not permissible for the trial court to make such an inference on assumptions without any evidence on the record.
Intense situations like this, where a Prime Minister was assassinated, raising of one or more casual slogans like what is mentioned above could have created law and order situation, the police officials should act not only sensitively but also with utmost maturity because over sensitiveness sometimes is counterproductive and instead of solving problems can result is inviting more trouble.
In this case, the previous judgment of the trial court that held conviction under sedition charges to the people chanting provocative slogans on a busy road on the date of Indira Gandhi’s assassination was overturned slating the fact that the slogans did not incite any kind of violence which is a primary requisite under section 124-A of IPC. The case greatly helps in restructuring a line between what is offensive and causes inconvenience and further emphasizes on the fact that the courts must not look into the literal meaning of the section but interpret it according to the facts of the case to bring in view the real reason it still has a place in Indian legislation i.e. not curb any free speech and actions but keeping in limits the excessive use of the same to maintain social order.
“The views of the authors are personal“
 Use and misuse of Sedition law: Section 124A of IPC, Published on: October 9, 2019.
 Section 124-A IPC — Where to draw the line by Akshay Anurag and Dibya Prakash Behera|Oct 3,2017.