Five years after it informed the Bombay High Court of its intention to codify guidelines that policemen in the state should follow before filing sedition cases to prevent its arbitrary use, the Maharashtra government has failed to bring in these regulations.
A draft of such guidelines was submitted by the then Congress-NCP government in 2012, requiring the police to fulfill certain pre-conditions before invoking Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code against a person. Its pre-conditions to the police included making it mandatory for the public prosecutor to seek the opinion of the district law officer in writing, addressing the reasons for invoking sedition. The draft also said that sedition could not be invoked against a person who comments expressing disapproval or criticism of the government by lawful means. The draft guidelines was subsequently accepted by the Bombay High Court in 2015 by when the BJP-led government had come to power.
Subsequent to the change in government, the BJP-led administration translated the draft in Marathi and it was notified by the Home department on August 27, 2015. Within days, however, the circular ran into controversy. Opposition leaders as well as activists said that the translation was not in accordance with the draft submitted before the high court. The draft had suggested that criticism of politicians and public servants could be deemed as sedition.
Under fire, the BJP-led state government told the high court on October 27, 2015, that it was withdrawing the circular and issuing a Government Resolution to state its withdrawal. Following this, till date, no fresh circular based on the draft guidelines submitted to the court has been issued by the government. “Currently, there is no such circular in place for police personnel while invoking sedition,” said a senior official of the Home department.
In 2015, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed before the high court seeking an examination of the legal position on the invocation of sedition charges. This was following the invocation of the section against a cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi.
Hearing the PIL the court had said that the section could not be invoked unless words which incite violence against the state were used. It, however, said it did not find it necessary to dwell on the subject further as the then Advocate General submitted that the state government will issue guidelines in the form of a circular to all its police personnel.
Since the anti-CAA protests in Maharashtra, 51 people. including a 22-year-old TISS student, have been charged under sedition. The guidelines were recently referred to by the defence lawyers of the 22-year old TISS student, while seeking anticipatory bail. The lawyers claimed the section was invoked without following the guidelines of the state government.
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