BNS Section 150: Same coffee, little stronger, but in a ‘different mug’

Shekhar Singh

New Delhi, Aug 16 (IANS) The newly proposed Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita which seeks to replace the archaic Indian Penal Code laws has framed ‘sedition’ in a harsher way.

The BNS Bill, introduced by Home Minister Amit Shah during the final day of the monsoon session in the Lok Sabha, seeks to replace Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) with a new provision outlined in Section 150 of the bill.

Under the existing sedition law, Section 124A of the IPC, individuals found guilty of promoting discontent or disaffection towards the government could face life imprisonment and a possible fine. This broadly covers various acts such as spoken or written words, signs, or gestures that express “hatred or contempt” towards the state or “excite disaffection” against it.

The proposed Section 150 of the BNS Bill maintains concerns for national integrity and sovereignty but rephrases the offence. Instead of using “sedition,” the new section terms the act as “endangering sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.”

This shift aims to address concerns from critics who believe the current sedition law has been abused to suppress dissent and limit freedom of expression.

The bill describes the offence: “Whoever, intentionally or knowingly, using spoken or written words, signs, visual representation, electronic communication, financial means, or other methods, incites or attempts to incite secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, or encourages separatist sentiments, or poses a risk to India’s sovereignty, unity, and integrity, shall be subject to imprisonment for life or imprisonment up to seven years, along with a fine.”

“The sedition act has not been done away with, it is there under section 150 of the BNS Bill 2023 having the same language with additions of expression ‘electronic communication’. Whether any government wants to repeal the same? Because, the crime of sedition is nothing short of treason to excite hostility against the government,” said Siddharth Malkania, a criminal lawyer based in Delhi.

“There is no simple definition of the doctrine of sedition act. If the government is to govern effectively, it seeks respect and support from the people. Any criticism of the government necessarily undermines this respect and support. Seditious libel may be imposed against any criticism, be it true or false, for the Constitution, policies, laws or conduct of government. Prosecutions for seditious libel had routinely been used by the political parties to suppress opposition,” explained Malkania.

Supreme Court lawyer Vineet Jindal said the replacement of section 124A  by 150 is to prevent misuse of the section in respect of political interests and thereby strengthen the democratic set up.

“Introduction of section 150, is of vital importance to safeguard the unity and integrity of the country .With the rise in misuse of technology to provoke the various communities, trying to disintegrate the structure of the country, there is a need to make a provision against anyone who tries to challenge the sovereignty, unity and integrity of the country,” said Jindal.

“Moreover, the explanation of Section 150, BNS Bill 2023 seems incomplete when it is compared with the Explanation (2) of section 124A, IPC, because the whole phrase ‘do not constitute an offence’ is left out under section 150. It has to be more explanatory assuring that Section 150 does not abridge the freedom of speech, or of the press,” said Malkania.

“Section 124 A imposed a fine on those indulging in anti-national acts but now section 150 provides severe punishment from seven years to life imprisonment with fine , which is an inevitable step to prevent anti-national activities,” explained Jindal.

The Supreme Court had suspended the sedition law last year, pending review. Interestingly, the Law Commission advised keeping Section 124A of the IPC (sedition) intact.

However, even if the sedition law is eventually repealed, the ongoing investigations and proceedings such as those involving former JNU student Sharjeel Imam, are protected by Clause 356(2) from being annulled.

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