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Misusing laws and lacking decision making

Posted in Featured, View Point

Published on July 23, 2021 with No Comments

Over the week, Supreme Court of India intervened in two important cases.  

Observations made by the Honorable Supreme Court reflect not only on the misuse of the draconian laws, but also on the decision making process of the governments.

Over the last three five years India witnessed a steep increase in registration of sedition cases against anyone who showed any kind of dissent towards the Narendra Modi government. Sedition cases shot up by 160 per cent in a three-year period (2016-19), while the conviction rate dropped to just 3 per cent. The Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Panel Code has come under the scrutiny of the Supreme Court of India over a number of times. Last week, a a Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana asked the Centre why a colonial-era law used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak was still in existence even 75 years after Independence. The court not only took the government to task for making ‘enormous misuse’ of the section but also wondered why the government never thought of repealing this provision.

With just three percent conviction rate, it is apparent that the police and other enforcement agencies put people behind bars on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence and don’t even bother to conduct a proper investigation. Are the agencies working to suppress any voice of dissent-be it activists, scholars, farmers, or journalists? Or the intention is to teach a lesson to the dissenters and thus dissuade others from raising their voice. In most of the cases, trial is not even started and if at all the accused is able to reach the trial court and is acquitted; the torment of having spent time behind bars as an under trial can’t be compensated. Before Independence, this charge was used by the British to suppress the freedom movement.

Ironically, the same draconian law has become a tool that the country is now using against its own people.

During colonial period section 124-A was interpreted by the privy council in a way to suppress every act that expressed discontent against the govt.

Many freedom fighters were slapped with these charges for invoking feelings of nationalism and educating people of India against the policies adopted by the colonial power.

Instead of critically analysing why citizens, be they in Kashmir or Chhattisgarh or Bhima Koregaon, are driven to dissent, the government is using an iron-fist policy with the sedition law playing a leading role to completely shut out contrarian views.

While, the judiciary has been doing its best and stepping in to protect rights of citizens. SC judge Justice DY Chandrachud’s assertion that criminal laws, including the anti-terror law, should not be misused for quelling dissent and courts must act as the first line of defence against deprivation of liberty. Modi Government had enacted the Repealing and Amending Act  in August 2019, and around 60 acts that were enacted under British empire and now had become redundant. However, the government didn’t find it appropriate to throw out the sedition law as well, as it could use it to silence it’s critics.  

In the second case, the Supreme Court of India had to remind the centre as well as the state government of Uttar Pradesh and Uttrakhand that religious gatherings and election rallies were the major superspreaders of Covid-19 infections earlier this year. The Kumbh Mela, held in April, witnessed the congregation of lakhs of devotees, the majority of whom did not bother about social distancing norms. Considering the Kumbh experience, the suspension or cancellation of the upcoming Kanwar Yatra should have been a simple decision for any government to make. During the fortnight-long yatra, tens of thousands of pilgrims from various states converge on Hardwar in Uttarakhand to collect water from the Gangaes. On the way, they make several stopovers at temples. Possibility of contracting or transmitting the infection can’t be ruled out.  The new Uttarakhand Chief Minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, has claimed that saving lives is the state government’s topmost priority, however, Dhami had stated that a final decision on the pilgrimage would be taken in consultation with neighbouring states. However, various stakeholders didn’t appear to be on the same page, with Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath directing officials to ensure strict compliance of the Covid protocol during the yatra in coordination with their counterparts in other states.  

The experience from the Kumbh mela should have served as an example to cancel the Kanwar Yatra, but the states governments appeared more towards pleasing its religious voters than to ensure safety. The yatra was called off only at the intervention of the court.

The governments needs to act wisely on both the sedition law and the letting mass gathering. At the same, time the governments should ensure that their decision making is timely, appropriate and considers the consequences. 

 

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