[Editorial Analysis] A colonial relic

Mains Paper 3: Security
Prelims level: Sedition Law
Mains level: Challenges to internal security through communication networks, role of media and social networking sites in internal security challenges,

Context:

• A Delhi court granted bail to climate activist Disha Ravi, arrested in connection with allegedly being involved in sharing a “toolkit” on social media related to the farmers’ protest, terming evidence produced by police as scanty and sketchy.

• A session’s court has affirmed the belief that a dispassionate scrutiny of outlandish claims by the police is necessary for protecting the liberty of those jailed on flimsy, often political, reasons.

• In particular, the judge has applied the established test for a charge of sedition under Section 124A of the IPC to pass muster: that the act involved must constitute a threat to public order and incitement to violence.

Meaning of Sedition Law in India:

• Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code deals with the offence of sedition. It lays down that,

• Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India,

• Person shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine”.

• The Case in Devi Saran v/s State AIR 1954 Pat 254, the SC Court has held that Section 124A imposes reasonable restriction on the interest of public order and therefore it is protected under Article 19 (2) of the Constitution.

Significance of Judgment:

• Judgment says Citizens are conscience keepers of government in any democratic nation. They cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state policies.

• Even our founding fathers of constitution accorded due respect to divergence of opinion by recognising the freedom of speech and expression as an inviolable fundamental right.

• “Let noble thoughts come to me from all directions” because our founding fathers of Indian constitution granted some fundamental right for that.

• The Difference of opinion, disagreement, divergence, dissent, or for that matter even disapprobation, are recognized legitimate tools to infuse objectivity in state policies.

• An aware and assertive citizenry, in contradistinction with an indifferent or docile citizenry, is indisputably a sign of a healthy and vibrant democracy.”

Freedom of the press in India:

• The rights of the press in India arise out of the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

• The press has a variety of rights including the right to publish, right to circulate, right to receive information, right to advertise, right to dissent, etc.

• Some of the major laws related to mass media in India include the following: First Press Regulations, Gagging Act, Indian Press Act, Vernacular Press Act, Official Secrets Act, Press and Registration of Books Act, Sea Customs Act, Contempt of Court.

• Media law covers an area of law which involves media of all types (TV, film, music, publishing, advertising, internet and new media, etc.), and stretches over various legal fields, including but not limited to corporate, finance, intellectual property, publicity and privacy.

• Social media law India is regulated by the Information Technology Act which was enacted in the year 2000 to regulate, control and deal with the issues arising out of the IT. Social networking media is an within the meaning of Indian information technology act 2000 (IT Act 2000)

Restrictions on Freedom of Press in India:

• The freedom of press comes within the ambit of freedom of speech and expression. In a democracy, freedom of press is highly essential as it acts as a watchdog on the three organs of a democracy viz. the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

• But, the freedom of press is not absolute in nature. It is subject to certain restrictions which are mentioned in Article 19(2) of the Constitution. The following are the grounds of restrictions laid down in Article 19(2):

• Sovereignty and Integrity of India, Security of the State, Friendly relations with Foreign States, Public Order Decency or Morality and Contempt of Court

• The grounds of ‘Public Order’ and ‘Friendly relations with Foreign States’ was added by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act,1951.

• While the ground of ‘Sovereignty and Integrity of India’ was added by the Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Act, 1963.

A trend and caused concern:

• The tendency of the rulers to treat instances of dissent, especially involving strident criticism of policies and laws in which particular regimes are deeply invested, as attempts to provoke disaffection and disloyalty.

• It is significant that the judge not only saw Ms. Ravi’s activism as related to her freedom of speech and expression, but went on to say that an attempt to reach a global audience is part of that freedom.

• It should also be underscored that such bail orders should not be rare or special, but be routine judicial responses to cases in which there is a mismatch between the accusation and the evidence.

Way forward:

• There are no geographical barriers on communication. A citizen has the fundamental rights to use the best means of imparting and receiving communication, as long as the same is permissible under the four corners of law and as such have access to audience abroad.

• It is by now fairly clear to everyone except, perhaps, the government and its vociferous supporters, that there is no place in a modern democracy for a colonial-era legal provision such as sedition.

• The sedition is too broadly defined, prone to misuse, and functioning as a handy tool to repress activism, the section deserves to be scrapped.

• The Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi, “The role of journalism should be service. The Press is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, even so an uncontrolled pen serves but to destroy.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the MK III Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH), consider the following statements:

1. The naval version of ALH is fitted with an array of advanced sensors that can detect Mumbai terror attacks like intrusions on Indian waters.

2. It has a nose mounted surveillance radar with 270 degree coverage that can detect and track multiple marine targets.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C

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