Maintaining that students need not fear as long as they protest by lawful means, retired Bombay High Court judge Satyaranjan C Dharmadhikari on Friday said being critical of the government is not an offence.
“(Students) need not fear as long as they protest by lawful means and being critical of the government is not an offence. Freedom of speech should not amount to incitement of an offence,” said Justice Dharmadhikari said while addressing law students, academicians and advocates on ‘Free Speech and Sedition’ at Dr T K Tope Memorial Lecture organised by the Government Law College.
On the recent protests by students across the country, Justice Dharmadhikari said: “As students, you enjoy your freedom completely. Do not apprehend that somebody is there and policeman is going to knock (on the door) at your campus. But when you do something like this (incitement of an offence), be careful.”
“There is always a balance that law strikes and aims in preserving and protecting harmony. To destroy… is not harmonious. Our mentality has to be such that we cannot be so destructive,” he added.
On the sedition law, he said, “We think every law is draconian. We presume that in a democracy, such a law cannot stand. I find after leaving office that there is largescale ignorance on law. Presumption of a law is that it is constitutional. It has to be tested on the anvil of the Constitution.”
Justice Dharmadhikari said the heart of democracy is debate, deliberation, discussion and dissent. “That is not taken away.”
“Any penal provision does not take away your freedom, does not take away your right and it is subject to reasonable restriction. Anyone who says speech is seditious will have to establish it with proof,” he said.
Justice Dharmadhikari referred to the Bombay High Court ruling in a PIL seeking an examination of the legal position on the invocation of sedition charges. The PIL, in 2015, had come up following the invocation of sedition against cartoonist Assem Trivedi. It had prompted the state to codify guidelines that police should follow before filing a sedition case. A set of guidelines were drawn but they were subsequently withdrawn by the state.
“In this case, the state home department assured the court that it will not invoke sedition charges only to curb your right to free speech and expression, which to my mind is sufficient and protection safeguard against abuse of the Section 124A (of IPC),” he said.
Maintaining that freedom of press is part and parcel of right to freedom of speech, Justice Dharmadhikari said: “When somebody says something and the press publishes it, these are not two independent rights. Freedom of press is part and parcel of the right of citizen to freedom of speech and expression. When you say something and it is published, publisher need not have to fear.”
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