Sedition law definition wide: Govt

The government on Wednesday acknowledged that the definition of the sedition law was "very wide" and said it was being reviewed by the law commission after members in the Rajya Sabha demanded it should be scrapped as it was a colonial legacy and a "relic".

Home Minister Rajnath Singh agreed for an all-party meeting to discuss the issue after the commission files its report on the law which has come under focus in the wake of JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) controversy.

The government also rejected the Opposition charge that it was rampantly using the law and pointed out that except the one case of JNU, sedition cases have mostly been registered outside Delhi.

"Anbody, who speaks against the government can be booked under sedition law. Amendments have been suggested because the definition is very wide...there are various cases. That is why concerns were have been raised. I would like to the ask the law commission to consider a very comprehensive review," Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said.

Rajnath Singh added that the "commission is carrying out a review regarding this law. Our government has said that they should file the report as soon as possible." Rijiju said the commission, in its 42nd report, had noted that the law was "defective" but did not favour its deletion.

He said that in another report, the commission had sought a change in the defintion of sedition but did not favour the scrapping of the law.

Asked whether any timeframe had been fixed for the commission to file its report, Rijiju said the home ministry had from time to time written to the ministry of law and justice to speed up the process.

Rejecting the Opposition charge that the government was rampantly using the law, Rijiju said, "It is registered in Telangana not Delhi", alluding to the sedition case lodged against Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal.

Quoting figures from a report of National Crime Records Bureau, he said a total of 47 cases under the law were reported across the country in 2014, of which the most 16 cases were registered in Bihar in which 28 arrests were made.

"The second highest is Jharkhand," he said adding that Kerala and Odissa follow them.

He said that while the Opposition is directly accusing the government of taking action against the students, the fact is that some cases have also been registered against politicians.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said given the

wide definition of the sedition law as pointed out by the minister "half of the parties of the country will be anti-national if there is a ban on speaking against the government."

He also wondered whether those engaged in "communal divide" will also be brought under the ambit of sedition law after review.

Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said this was a law made by the Britishers and the government should get rid of this "colonial legacy". "This should be scrapped," he insisted.

Yadav also sought an all-party meeting to discuss the sedition law, to which the Home Minister said, "we will do it after the Law Commission gives its report."

Singh also expressed agreement with Azad's contention for tough action against those fanning communal divide.

"We are in cent percent agreement with the view of the Leader of Opposition that there should be tough action against those creating communal divide. Standing in this House, I appeal to all state governments to take tough action against those trying to wage communal divides," the Home Minister said.

Azad said the issue of sedition was never talked about in past in the manner it has been discussed for last few days.

"The sedition law needs to be revisited. You take action against those who slogans against the country. But even more dangerous are those, who are engaged in carrying out communal divide. Will this also come under the new sedition law," the Congress leader said.

Rijiju said that no communal angle should be brought when a law is made in the country.

"Except the incident of Delhi, there is no incident at any other place, which shows any such intention of NDA and BJP," the minister said.

D Raja (CPI) said the 124 (A) Indian Penal Code under which one is charged with sedition is a "relic".

He said he had brought a private members' bill in 2011 demnanding the deletion of the sedition law.

Raja asked "what is the justification of slapping sedition charge against (JNU Students union leader) Kanhaiya Kumar and other students. We are demanding the scrapping of the sedition law. I am asking the Home Minister to answer this question directly. What is the justification of slapping sedition charges against the students."

Rijiju said that often it is found that the sedition charge was found violative of section 19 A. On the specific issue of the JNU row, he said it is "sub-judice and there is already a case going on.

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Rijiju said since the JNU case is sub-judice, its pros and cons should not be debated.

He, however, hastened to add "I am not defending the action of the Delhi Police. I am just stating the facts."

In the written reply, he said the Indian Penal Code was promulgated in 1860 and section 124A of the IPC related to sedition was inserted in IPC in 1870 through an amendment.

"In October 2012, a request was made by the Ministry of Home Affairs to the Ministry of Law and Justice to study the usage of the provisions of the section 124A of IPC and suggest amendments, if any, so that necessary steps can be taken in this regard.

"The Ministry of Law and Justice requested the Law Commission to consider a comprehensive review of the criminal laws of the country. On December 11 in 2014, the Law Commission intimated that they have identified certain focus areas and formed subgroups to deliberate on such areas, in the context of comprehensive review of criminal laws," he said.

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