New Delhi: Government and police are more enthusiastic in filing cases under the “colonial” era sedition law but they fail miserably when it comes convicting those accused of committing the offence.
The number of sedition cases filed in the past four years since 2015 stood at 191, of which trials were completed in 43 cases. However, the prosecution managed conviction only in four cases. None of the four cases in which trials were completed in 2015 ended in convictions.
The year 2018 saw the least conviction rate at 15.4% compared to 2016 (16.7%) and 2017 (33.3%).
The number of sedition cases nearly doubled between 2015 and 2018, according to data available in the Crime in India 2018 report by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). In 2018, 75 sedition cases were filed, which was a sharp rise from 30 reported in 2015 and 35 in 2016. In 2017, 51 such cases were registered.
Jharkhand with 18 cases recorded the highest number of sedition cases in 2018 followed by Bihar (17), Jammu and Kashmir (12) and Kerala (9). Karnataka had two such cases.
In 2018, ninety sedition cases, including 38 that went to court the same year, were in the trial but proceedings were completed in only 13 cases. Conviction happened only in two cases in which two men were sentenced while 21 people were acquitted in 11 cases.
On the police front, investigations were not complete in 135 out of the 190 cases, including the cases registered during the year, leaving a pendency rate of 71.1%. Fifty-six persons were arrested of which 46 were charge-sheeted.
In 2017, only one case — in which four persons were accused — ended in conviction while one case was discharged and five — in which seven were accused — ended in acquittal. The courts reported 89.7% pendency in sedition cases in 2017 as against 85.6% in 2018.
While activists have been demanding the repealing of Section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code that deals with sedition, the government had made it clear in Parliament that it is not taking any steps to repeal the law, saying it is needed to “effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist” elements.
“There is no proposal to scrap the provision under the IPC dealing with the offence of sedition. There is a need to retain the provision to effectively combat anti-national, secessionist and terrorist elements,” Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai in a written reply in Rajya Sabha in July 2019.
In March 2016 in Rajya Sabha, the Narendra Modi government had admitted that the sedition law was “very wide” while acknowledging the need for “some amendments”. Then Home Minister Rajnath Singh had agreed to a suggestion by then JD(U) MP Sharad Yadav for consulting all parties on the scrapping of the issue but he wanted all of them to wait till Law Commission submits its recommendations.
The sedition law had come under attack after CPI leader and then Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and others were charged under Section 124(A) accusing them of raising “anti-India” slogans. Recently, activist Shehla Rashid was also slapped with a sedition case following her accusations of atrocities committed by the Indian Army in Jammu and Kashmir.
Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren had recently ordered the dropping of sedition charges against over 3,000 anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protesters in Dhanbad. After assuming power earlier this month, Soren’s first decision was to drop 19 cases of sedition, among others, filed during the Pathalgadi movement in 2017-2018 and protests against plans to tweak Chotanagpur and Santhal Paragna tenancy Acts.