Several Opposition leaders and civil society activists on Thursday hailed the Supreme Court for asking the Centre whether the sedition law was still needed 75 years after Independence and expressed the hope that it would be "thrown out".
Concerned over the "enormous misuse" of the colonial-era penal law, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana asked the Centre why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to "silence" people like Mahatma Gandhi to suppress the freedom movement.
The bench, which agreed to examine pleas challenging the constitutionality of section 124A (sedition) in the IPC, also issued notice to the Centre.
"We do not know why the government is not taking a decision. Your government has been getting rid of stale laws," it said.
Reacting to the Supreme Court terming the sedition law colonial and asking whether it was still needed 75 years after Independence, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said, "We welcome this observation by the Supreme Court."
Some leaders, including Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra and Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav, pointed out that about 100 farmers in Haryana were charged with sedition, among other charges, in connection with an attack on the state deputy speaker's car during a farmers' protest.
Moitra said she was finally hoping "this archaic law misused by GoI will be thrown out".
"Ironic that Haryana police charge over 100 farmers with sedition after alleged attack on BJP leader's vehicle while SC questions why we have this outdated law!" the Lok Sabha MP said on Twitter.
On the Supreme Court asking the Centre whether it was necessary to keep the sedition law in the statute books, Yadav said. "Yes, that's the question. Case in point: Yesterday, sedition case was registered against farmers in Sirsa for breaking the windshield of a minister's vehicle!"
That's what this law is being used for, he alleged.
Former law minister Ashwani Kumar did not directly comment on the Supreme Court's observation but tweeted that the sedition charge against Haryana farmers is an insult to India's democratic traditions.
"Government should withdraw the charges immediately and unconditionally," he said.
Activist and lawyer Prashant Bhushan said, "Kudos to the SC & the CJI for standing up to the Govt on the gross misuse of this colonial law of sedition to silence dissent."
According to Congress leader Jaiveer Shergill, the British used the sedition law to silence Mahatma Gandhi and the BJP is "using it to kill principles of transparency and accountability espoused by Mahatma Gandhi".
In a tweet, he said, "28% rise per year in registration of sedition cases since 2014 -- well thought strategy to kill freedom of speech!"
Actor and Shiv Sena leader Urmila Matondkar said, "'Do we still need it after 75 years of Independence?' Honorable #SupremeCourt has referred to #Sedition law as 'Colonial'."
Filmmaker and former MP Pritish Nandy also reacted to the Supreme Court asking the Centre whether the sedition law was needed and said, "Good point, Supreme Court. Gone hoarse saying this."
He added that we want to remove all traces of British rule but won't give up this terrible law under which our freedom fighters were jailed.
The Supreme Court bench, which also comprised Justices A S Bopanna and Hrishikesh Roy, said, "Mr attorney (general), we want to ask some questions. This is the colonial era law and the same law was used by the British to suppress freedom movement."
"It was used by British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Gokhale and others. Is it still necessary to keep this in statute even after 75 years of independence?" it asked.
Observing that the provision on sedition has been put to "enormous misuse", it also referred to alarming misuse of Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act even after the top court set it aside long back. and observed: "It can be compared to a carpenter, asked to cut a wood, cut the entire forest."