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NCRB report: Sedition cases up in 2019 but conviction at all-time low

As per the Crime In India Report, this decline, however, was largely explained by the drop in cases registered under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act — from 7,127 in 2018 and 7,892 in 2017 to 6,079 in 2019.

Written by Dipankar Ghose | New Delhi |
October 2, 2020 4:30:28 am
Much has been written to document the use, abuse and misuse of the offence of sedition as a tool to curb dissent by the powers that be, irrespective of ideological and political leanings. (File)

Cases of sedition and under the stringent UAPA showed a rise in 2019, but only 3 per cent of the sedition cases resulted in convictions. Data for the year 2019 released by the National Crime Records Bureau also show that sedition cases rose even as the category under which they come — ‘Offences Against the State’, which includes charges under the UAPA and Official Secrets Act (OSA) — saw a steep fall of 11.3 per cent from the year before.

As per the Crime In India Report, this decline, however, was largely explained by the drop in cases registered under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act — from 7,127 in 2018 and 7,892 in 2017 to 6,079 in 2019. The UAPA cases formed the second largest chunk under this category, after the property Act.

The ‘Offences Against the State’ category includes cases filed under the UAPA, the damage to property Act, OSA and under IPC Sections 124A (sedition), 121 (waging, or attempting to wage war against the State), 122 (collecting arms, etc., with the intention of waging war against the government of India), 123 (concealing with intent to facilitate design to wage war), and 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration).

The conviction rate for sedition cases saw a sharp decline even as the numbers registered under it rose. The NCRB data show that 93 sedition cases were filed in 2019, up from 70 in 2018 and 51 in 2017. Karnataka saw the maximum sedition cases last year (22), followed by Assam (17) and Jammu and Kashmir (11).

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Under the UAPA, 1,226 cases were registered in 2019 — compared to 1,182 in 2018 and 901 in 2017. The maximum UAPA cases were seen in Manipur (306), followed by 270 in Tamil Nadu, and 255 in J&K.

Forty cases were registered under the OSA in both 2019 and 2018 — much higher than 18 in 2017.

Under the sub-head on court disposal of ‘Offences Against the State’, the NCRB data note that 35.7 per cent of the cases in which trial was over, saw convictions. The UAPA charges had among the highest conviction rates in 2019 (29.2 per cent), while sedition the lowest (3.3 per cent).

This is a big drop from the 33.3 per cent conviction rate for sedition cases in 2016, 16.7 per cent in 2017, and 15.4 per cent in 2018. The conviction rate in UAPA cases saw a rise from 27.2 per cent in 2018, but remained almost half of 2017 (49.3 per cent) and much lower than 2016 (33.3 per cent).

The sedition numbers were also up from 2018 in terms of people arrested — from 56 held under Section 124A that year to 96 in 2019. However, in 2017, as many as 228 people had been held for sedition, a nearly five-time rise from 48 in 2016.

Under the UAPA, 1,948 people were arrested in 2019, up from 1,421 in 2018, 1,554 in 2017, and 999 in 2016.

The number of people held under the OSA has largely been constant — 30 in 2019, compared to 35 in 2018, 36 in 2017 and 41 in 2016.

Given the low conviction rates, the numbers of those acquitted or discharged remained largely higher than those sentenced. In 2019, for instance, only two people were convicted of sedition, while 29 were acquitted. Under the UAPA, there were 34 convictions, but 16 people were discharged, and 92 people were acquitted.

In 2018 too, only two people had been convicted for sedition, while 21 were acquitted. Under the UAPA, there were 35 convictions, 23 people were discharged and 117 acquitted. Similarly in 2017, four people were arrested and seven acquitted under 124A while 39 were convicted, two discharged and 42 acquitted under the UAPA. In 2016, one person was convicted, one discharged and one acquitted under sedition, while under the UAPA, 24 people were convicted, 19 acquitted and eight discharged.

On the cases falling under ‘Offences Against the State’, the NCRB report notes: “A total of 7,569 cases have been registered in 2019 as compared to 8,536 cases in 2018, showing a decrease of 11.3%. Out of 7,569 cases, 80.3% of cases were registered under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act (6,079 cases) followed by 1,226 (16.2%) cases under the Unlawful Activities Act (UAPA).” In 2017, the total cases under this category numbered 9,013.

UP saw 2,017 of the 7,569 cases (27.8 per cent), a drop from 2,503 last year. Tamil Nadu ranked next, with 1,311 cases (17.3 per cent), followed by Haryana with 572 cases.

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