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Bombay High Court stays govt’s circular on sedition, seeks response within two weeks

"The circular should be withdrawn or a fresh circular should be issued. The state shall not act on the existing circular," said the bench. The state has been asked to file a reply within two weeks.

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The Bombay High Court on Tuesday directed the state government not to act on its circular which defines guidelines for police to book people under sedition charges.

Justice VM Kanade and Dr Shalini Phansalkar Joshi were hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) that has sought trashing of the government circular.

While seeking a reply from the government, the HC was informed that a fresh circular would be issued by the state soon. “The circular should be withdrawn or a fresh circular should be issued. The state shall not act on the existing circular,” said the bench. The state has been asked to file a reply within two weeks.

A debate has been raging over the issue and the PIL states that the government stand is arbitrary and aimed at curbing the freedom of speech.

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The PIL filed by advocate Narendra Sharma (25) says that the circular will rob people of freedom of speech and expression. The petitioner said that the subordinate machinery, the police, might not have the “requisite” training to understand the consequences of imposing such a “stringent” provision.

In August, the state government came out with the circular defining conditions under which police can arrest a person on sedition charges. The guidelines have been criticised by many as an attempt to stifle the democratic right of people to criticise the government. The High Court had in March ruled that sedition charges (Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code) cannot be invoked in cases where the administration or the government is criticised, unless such censure leads to violent public reaction.

The issue had been raised during the hearing of a public interest litigation dealing with the arrest of Mumbai-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in 2012 and the charges of sedition brought against him under Section 124A for drawing “objectionable” cartoons.

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The court had asked the state about its proposed guidelines for application of sedition charges and was informed that the state would be issuing a circular in this regard.

First published on: 23-09-2015 at 04:07:14 am
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