Updated: March 17, 2021 3:53:17 am
OPPOSITION AND treasury benches engaged in a war of words on the sedition law during Question Hour in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday, with both sides strongly putting their points across. The opposition members also demanded setting up of a turmeric board as they accused the BJP of giving “false promises”. Parties friendly to the BJP as well as a BJP MP also joined the opposition demand.
The opposition MPs accused the BJP-led government of misusing the stringent sedition law, which drew a sharp retort from Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishan Reddy, who asked the Congress members not to give lectures on misuse of laws, and reminded them of Emergency during which many leaders were imprisoned.
It started with Congress MP from Telangana, Anumula Revanth Reddy, asking the minister to provide the number of sedition cases registered in the past 10 years, the conviction rate and measures taken for speedy trial. He referred to the arrest of climate activist Disha Ravi in connection with the farmer protest toolkit case and her subsequent bail. He also talked about cases against farmer union leaders after the January 26 violence in Delhi.
Minister Reddy tabled a written response. He said 47 sedition cases were registered in 2014; 30 in 2015; 35 in 2016; 51 in 2017; 70 in 2018 and 93 in 2019. He said the central government had nothing to do with the arrests as law and order is a state subject. “There is no direct involvement of the Centre in sedition cases,” he said.
When Anumula insisted that he provide the number of arrests in the past two years, the minister said the NCRB data was till 2019.
“Giving half information is taking the House towards a wrong direction,” the Congress MP said, adding that after 2014 anyone who criticises the government’s policy is charged with sedition. “In 2019, the conviction rate (for sedition) was 3.3 per cent. This means these are politically motivated cases. If a youth leader is booked for sedition and the cases drags for 4-5 year, he/she is not in a position, they won’t get a job, passport, visa. Activists like Disha Ravi are charged, but they are not able to prove anything in the court,” he said.
Raising a supplementary question, Congress member Manish Tewari said IPC Section 124A, which deals with sedition, was being misused to suppress freedom of expression. He said in 2014, only one was convicted out of 14 sedition cases. “In 2015, it was zero against 13 arrests, one against 15 in 2016, one against 51 in 2017, two against 70 cases in 2018 and only one of the 93 cases got convicted in 2019,” Tewari said.
Hitting back, the minister said the Congress need not lecture on misuse of law as it had used the Maintenance of Internal Security Act against opposition leaders such as Jayaprakash Narayan and A B Vajpayee. “The Congress has no right to talk about misuse of laws,” he said amidst applauds from the BJP and protests from the Congress benches.
He, however, did not respond to the question whether there is a proposal to drop “false charges” against farmer union leaders protesting against the three farm laws. Outside the House, Reddy told The Indian Express, the government has no such plans for the time being.
In the House, Reddy said a committee on Criminal Law Reforms under the chairmanship of the vice-chancellor, National Law University, Delhi was formed in February 2020. He also said Home Minister Amit Shah has sought opinion from various stakeholders – including chief ministers of all states – on amending the CrPC. After the report is prepared, it will be discussed in Parliament.
The House also witnessed Congress and TRS members coming together to demand a turmeric board. Raising the issue during Question Hour, Congress’s Uttam Kumar Reddy said the BJP had promised during its campaign in Telangana that the Centre would set up a turmeric board to deal with issues of turmeric farmers. He said Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Prakash Javadekar and senior BJP leader Ram Madhav had made the promise in Nizamabad. “What is the problem in setting up a turmeric board? There is no great financial cost. The land has already been allotted by the previous government,” he said.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture Parshottam Rupala said the Spices Board was already handling turmeric and its extension has been set up in Nizamabad to deal specifically with turmeric.
But Reddy alleged the BJP was giving “false”promises. He was joined by TRS members, who also shouted that the BJP had made a promise. Surprising the BJP benches, party MP from Karnataka’s Chikkbalipur B N Bacha Gowda also stood up and demanded a turmeric board. “The minister should come out with a statement on this demand,” he said.
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