Editorials - 29-06-2021

An urgent review of the Kedar Nath judgment is necessary as ‘sedition’ violates the basic right of speech and expression

In Vinod Dua’s case (2021), the Supreme Court of India has reaffirmed the law of sedition laid down inKedar Nath Singh(1962) and directed governments to adhere to it. This reaffirmation seems to be a little problematic. TheKedar Nathjudgment upheld the constitutional validity of sedition as defined in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code. And the Court read down the provision by holding that only writings or speeches which incite people to violence against the Government will come within the mischief of sedition. So, as per this judgment, unless speeches or writings tend to cause violence or disorder, there is no sedition.

Issue of ‘disaffection’

Section 124A of the IPC, which contains the law of sedition, categorises four sources of seditious acts. They are, spoken words, written words, signs or visible representations. The gist of the offence is: bringing or attempting to bring the government into contempt or hatred, or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government. There are three explanations attached to this section. The first explanation says that ‘disaffection’ includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. The second and third explanations say that one can comment on the measures of the government or other actions of the government without bringing or attempting to bring it into contempt or hatred or exciting or attempting to excite disaffection towards the government. These explanations do not convey anything different from what the defining section says.

Here is an illustration. If a person writes that the Government is very good but the vaccine policy is bad, perhaps he may not attract the charge of sedition as per the explanations. But he should invariably state that the government is very good. If he only says that the policies and actions of the government are consistently bad and does not say that the government is very good, he is liable to be charged with sedition. The recent examples of sedition cases amply prove this point.

The Supreme Court’s assertion inKedar Naththat there is sedition only when writing or speech can lead to violence or disorder has consistently been ignored by governments all these years, and citizens of all ages have been charged with sedition for merely criticising the authorities. The Lakshadweep case is the latest example.

The problem actually lies in the fact that the law of sedition was not struck down by the Supreme Court in 1962 as unconstitutional. There was every justification for doing that because sedition, as defined in Section 124A of the IPC, clearly violates Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution which confers the Fundamental Right of freedom of speech and expression, the most valuable right of free citizens of a free country.

Not a reasonable restriction

Further, this section does not get protection under Article 19(2) on the ground of reasonable restriction. It may be mentioned in this context that sedition as a reasonable restriction, though included in the draft Article 19 was deleted when that Article was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly. It clearly shows that the Constitution makers did not consider sedition as a reasonable restriction. However, the Supreme Court was not swayed by the decision of the Constituent Assembly. It took advantage of the words ‘in the interest ... of public order’ used in Article 19(2) and held that the offence of sedition arises when seditious utterances can lead to disorder or violence. This act of reading down Section 124A brought it clearly under Article 19(2) and saved the law of sedition. Otherwise, sedition would have had to be struck down as unconstitutional. Thus, it continues to remain on the statute book and citizens continue to go to jail not because their writings led to any disorder but because they made critical comments against the authorities.

A few ironies

A great irony here is that the law of sedition, which should have gone out of the Statute Book when the Constitution of India came into force, was softened through interpretation and made constitutionally valid by the Supreme Court. This law was enacted by the British colonial government in 1870 with the sole object of suppressing all voices of Indians critical of the government. James Stephen, the author of the Bill, had clarified then that not only critical comments but even a seditious disposition of a person will attract this penal law. It was the policeman who would decide whether a person’s disposition was seditious.

The history of this most draconian law during colonial rule would reveal that the basic propositions laid down by Stephen have been followed by courts in all cases on sedition before Independence. In the Bangobasi case in 1891, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s case in 1897 and 1908 and Mahatma Gandhi’s case in 1922, the High Courts, and ultimately the judicial committee of the Privy Council, consistently held that incitement to violence or rebellion is not a necessary part of sedition under Section 124A of the IPC and a mere comment which the authorities think has the potential to cause disaffection towards the government is seditious and the person can be arrested and put on trial. Justice Arthur Strachey, while stating the law of sedition before the jury in Tilak’s case, had made it absolutely clear that even attempts to cause disaffection would attract the provision, meaning thereby that rebellion, disorder or violence are not an ingredient of sedition. This statement of law by Justice Strachey was approved by the Privy Council.

The Supreme Court, while dealing withKedar Nath, faced a tricky situation. On the one hand, there was the overwhelming judicial opinion saying that in order to attract sedition, a critical comment which causes disaffection towards the government or bring the government into hatred or contempt, is all that is necessary. If this opinion were followed by the Supreme Court, sedition in the IPC would have become unconstitutional. But the top court, for some unexplained reason, did not want to hold it unconstitutional. So, it adopted the reasoning given by the Federal Court inNiharendu Dutta Majumdar vs Emperorin 1942 in which it was held that the gist of the offence of sedition is public disorder or a reasonable apprehension of public disorder. In fact the Privy Council’s statement of law of sedition had clearly held that public disorder was not an ingredient of sedition. The Supreme Court itself admits that the Federal Court did not have the advantage of seeing the Privy Council’s statement of law, otherwise it would have affirmed the Privy Council’s view.

Here we cannot miss the irony that the Supreme Court’s attempt to read down Section 124A, to soften it and make its application conditional on public disorder, has made this colonial law constitutionally valid which otherwise it is not. On the other hand, if the judicial opinion on sedition given during the colonial period had been accepted, it would have been held unconstitutional and free India’s citizens would not have been thrown into jails for criticising the governments.

Impacting rights

In the ultimate analysis, the judgment inKedar Nathwhich read down Section 124A and held that without incitement to violence or rebellion there is no sedition, has not closed the door on misuse of this law. It says that ‘only when the words written or spoken etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder’ the law steps in. So if a policeman thinks that a cartoon has the pernicious tendency to create public disorder, he will arrest that cartoonist. It is the personal opinion of the policeman that counts. The Kedar Nath judgment makes it possible for the law enforcement machinery to easily take away the fundamental right of citizens.

In a democracy, people have the inalienable right to change the government they do not like. People will display disaffection towards a government which has failed them. The law of sedition which penalises them for hating a government which does not serve them cannot exist because it violates Article 19(1)(a) and is not protected by Article 19(2). Therefore, an urgent review of the Kedar Nath judgement by a larger Bench has become necessary.

P.D.T. Achary is former Secretary General, Lok Sabha

We can draw key lessons from chronic epidemics such as HIV/AIDS to stymie the COVID-19 pandemic

Four decades ago, on June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an unusual fungal infection of the lungs (pneumocystis cariniipneumonia) in five gay men in Los Angeles. That was the first time the world learnt about the devastating infection caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in people with a weak immune system.

We are in June of another decade and another century, and another virus is haunting us. Clioepidemiology is the study of information from past epidemics for advice about the present. We have dealt with the HIV infection for 40 years. What stops us from drawing from the collective experience of the past and entering this new battlefield against COVID-19 well-armed?

Falling short of targets

It is widely acknowledged that India scripted one of the biggest success stories in fighting HIV/AIDS between 1997 and 2010, after the infection hit the shores in 1986. The achievement of “controlling AIDS” was flagged by the Centre in 2012 as a small victory in the long journey of accepting, understanding and fighting the disease. But soon, we fell short of our targets.

The aim of the World Health Organization, of which India is a member, was to ensure that 90% of the people living with HIV/AIDS are on anti-retroviral therapy by 2020. The target has been pushed by at least five years. Similarly, the 2017 National Health Policy and the UN Sustainable Development Goals aim to end AIDS by 2030. This goal too looks like it may take longer to achieve. Former Union Health Secretary and National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) Director, J.V.R. Prasada Rao, who helmed India’s AIDS response programme till 2017 as Special Envoy to the Secretary General of the United Nations on HIV/AIDS for the Asia Pacific region, fears that the country is at risk of losing hard-won gains.

When the COVID-19 outbreak shook the world last year, transferring the blame for unmet targets got easy. But AIDS had actually fallen off the radar long before. And if it is further flushed out of public memory, it will be difficult to check progress on controlling it.

How India slipped

After years of debate and hard work, India had everything going for it to escalate the fight against HIV/AIDS. The information and education campaigns of the 1990s helped to check the transmission of HIV infection through two routes: mother to child, and blood transfusions. Strict ante-natal protocols were established and blood banks were upgraded with superior testing facilities. The sale of blood was banned. Excellent awareness programmes and intensive follow-up action plans led to significant decline in incidence, but the reduced visibility of the disease led to plateauing of efforts. While politics let AIDS slip from being priority health news, arrogance and complacency of governments between 2013 and 2019 slackened the implementation of AIDS control programmes countrywide.

Post-2014 elections, the government was keen to show the world that it was close to beating AIDS, says Mona Mishra, strategic planning consultant (HIV/AIDS project), UNDP. The HIV infection diagnosis rate dropped from 60% in 2010 to 23% in 2019, the mortality rate doubled and new cases spiked five times more during the period. According to NACO’s annual HIV Estimates report of 2019, there were over 58,000 AIDS-related deaths and over 69,000 new HIV infections added to the pool of 2.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS, with 98% of new infections in the high-risk groups. This happened because the campaign to educate and empower the vulnerable communities — MSM (men who have sex with men), IDUs (Injecting Drug Users), migrant and sex workers, and truck drivers — was losing steam. An entire new generation had grown up on Internet knowledge. They were downloading dating apps and hooking up with no awareness of AIDS. Natural desires and sexual behaviour cannot be changed; yet discussions with adolescents on safe sex were buried.

Trusting the same formula

The pioneers of the AIDS movement understood that a strong political leadership, financial support, advocacy and activism were non-negotiable in the successful handling of the movement. “When the HIV reality was unfolding in India, we did not look at short-term interests but took a long-term view of AIDS beyond the health sector and the socio-economic impacts of the epidemic,” writes Mr. Prasada in his bookCelebrating Small Victories: My Journey Through Two Decades of AIDS Response.India needs to keep the conversation going and focus on the broad coalition of economists, scientists, doctors, researchers, technicians, civil society representatives and policymakers, he says. He stresses on the need for a multi-sectoral and multi-pronged strategy to contain AIDS. To fight any medical crisis, we can trust the same formula of supporting science-driven responses, good quality data and empirical evidence; and consolidating guidelines.

“There is a road map for reducing new HIV infections by 2030; we only need to repurpose it,” says Ms. Mishra. Good data and information from scientific investigations have to be combined and the Centre needs to provide resources to scale.

The nationalised AIDS treatment plan is a perfect example of how early detection, diagnosis and treatment saved many lives. It gave a head start to the National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) when every State and Union Territory established its own AIDS control organisation and was given a free hand and funds to monitor the epidemic and work on integrated action plans under NACO’s supervision.

Universal precaution and prevention were NACP’s bedrock. Experts say the NACP’s experience in dealing with HIV needs to be tapped into. The existing workforce in 21,000 Integrated Counselling and Testing Centres (ICTC) is well-equipped. They can help in early detection of infections, provide basic information on modes of transmission, promote behavioural change, reduce vulnerability and link people with care and treatment services. A majority of the ICTCs has an excellent outreach in the interiors. The staff can also be easily utilised for dealing with COVID-19 now.

At the core of every exit strategy is a strong surveillance system. The government needs to rejig its priorities and re-energise the ICTCs along with the 32,000-plus primary and urban health centres to uphold the right to treatment and the dignity of individuals affected by diseases — AIDS, COVID-19 or any other. For that, acknowledging the existence and enormity of the problem is crucial. Using the available tools in the healthcare system is the best way to mainstream health crises. By integrating education and awareness outreach programmes and re-allocating and releasing funds on time, any chronic (TB/HIV/malaria), acute (cholera/plague) or new outbreak becomes easier to deal with.

There is no dearth of experiences to draw from if only we are inclined to learn from our past, rather than forget and be “condemned to repeat it”, in the words of writer-philosopher George Santayana. And that is also why AIDS needs to be back on the agenda.

soma.basu@thehindu.co.in

In the backdrop of an economic contraction, it is prudent to revisit the aggressive privatisation of public enterprises

Privatisation of the public sector, including banks, has been part of the wish list of economic reformers since 1991. This was at the core of the ‘Washington Consensus’. The private sector is inherently more efficient. The ground realities of democratic politics in India, however, kept coming in the way of actual privatisation, though progressive disinvestment of the shares of public sector undertakings in the market has been taking place over the years.

The National Democratic Alliance in the early 2000s did undertake some privatisation but had to pause because of political backlash. This was never in the United Progressive Alliance agenda. For six years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also did not consider it important. But it is now being pursued with vigour, has high priority with extremely ambitious targets, reminiscent of the Thatcher era in the United Kingdom.

India is right now going through its worst economic crisis. The highest-ever contraction in the economy took place last year, unemployment has risen, incomes for growing numbers are falling, bank non-performing assets (NPAs) may be ballooning, and the fiscal deficit is rising. In these circumstances, it would be prudent to think through the pros and cons of the aggressive privatisation of public enterprises that is on the anvil. There are three categories of public sector enterprises, with each needing its own analysis.

Categories, issues, solutions

There is the category of enterprises which have been sick for a long time. Their technology, plants and machinery are obsolete. Their managerial and human resources have atrophied. Reviews have come to the same conclusion: these are beyond redemption. They should be closed, and assets sold. But this has been difficult with successive governments as the labour in these enterprises have had a political constituency which has prevented closure. With its political strength, the Government should be able to close these in a time-bound manner with a generous handshake for labour. After selling machinery as scrap, there would be valuable land left. These land values have become high. Prudent disposal of these plots of lands in small amounts would yield large incomes in the coming years. All this would need the creation of dedicated efficient capacity as the task is huge and challenging. These enterprises may be taken away from their parent line Ministries and brought under one holding company which should have the sole mandate of speedy liquidation and asset sale.

Then there are enterprises which have been financially sick but can be turned around. Their difficulties can be traced to ministerial micromanagement especially in enterprises with a direct consumer interface. Where private management through privatisation or induction of a strategic partner is the best way to restore value of these enterprises, this should be pursued on priority. Air India and the India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) hotels are good examples. But these need bold decisions. Air India should ideally be made debt free and a new management should have freedom permitted under the law in personnel management to get investor interest. Once debt free, management control with a 26% stake may be given. As valuation rises, the Government could reduce its stake further and get more money. If well handled, significant revenues would flow to the Government.

The Chinese model

Then there are many profitable enterprises. Pragmatism instead of ideology should guide thinking about them. The Chinese chose to nurture their good state-owned enterprises as well as their private ones to succeed in the domestic and global markets by increasing their competitiveness in cost, quality, and technology. In the Fortune 500 list, the number of Chinese enterprises is 124, and of these, 91 are state-owned enterprises (https://bit.ly/2Ud8dH6). The Chinese chose to promote both their public as well as their private sector enterprises to rise. Both have made China the economic superpower that it is today.

With profitable public enterprises, the Government can continue to reduce its shareholding by offloading shares and even reducing its stake to less than 51% while remaining the promoter and being in control. Calibrated divestment to get maximum value over the medium term after considering market conditions should be the goal instead of being target driven to get a lower fiscal deficit number to please rating agencies. In correct accounting practice, asset sales should not be classified as revenue income for computing the fiscal deficit.

In parallel, managements may be given longer and stabler tenures, greater flexibility to achieve outcomes, and more confidence to take well-considered commercial risks. It was done in the past when, say, Maruti was set up. It can be done again. Many have the potential of becoming global champions. They can also be asked to invest patient capital in strategic areas where risk is high and where risk averse private investment may not be easily forthcoming. The Chinese have done this well.

Redirect the private sector

Outright privatisation has other implications. First, the number of Indian private firms which can buy out public sector firms are very few. Their limited financial and managerial resources would be better utilised in taking over the large number of private firms up for sale through the bankruptcy process and where a paucity of buyers is slowing down the much-needed rapid turnaround of these firms to give a higher growth momentum to the economy. Then, these successful large corporates need to be encouraged to invest and grow both in brownfield and greenfield modes in the domestic as well as international markets. This would be better for India entering a higher growth trajectory with an increase in investment rates which have been falling, than in using their scarce resources for taking over government enterprises with no real value addition to the economy in the near term. Sale at fair or lower than fair valuations to foreign entities, firms as well as funds, has adverse implications from the perspective of being ‘Atma Nirbhar’. Again, greenfield foreign investment is what India needs and not takeovers.

Then, there are broader considerations. These enterprises provide for reservations in recruitment. With privatisation, this would end and unnecessarily generate social unrest. In dealing with the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis, the Government has been able to use its ownership to get banks and public enterprises to do so many things on an immediate basis. A similar option does not exist with private enterprises. Would it be in India’s interest to lose the strategic capacity that its ownership of public enterprises including financial ones provide it? It would be better to think carefully now. These are one-way streets where one cannot retrace one’s steps easily.

Ajay Shankar is former Secretary, Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Government of India

India’s failure to honour adverse international judicial rulings hurts its image as an investment destination

On August 15 last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid down his vision for an AtmaNirbhar Bharat Abhiyan (self-reliant India initiative). He said that India is emerging as a major destination for foreign direct investment (FDI) and is shifting its focus from ‘make in India’ to ‘make for the world’. In pursuit of this ambition, the Commerce Ministry recently reported that India attracted the highest ever FDI of $81.72 billion in 2020-21. However, several economists argue persuasively that the surge in FDI inflows is driven by unprecedented short-term portfolio investment inflows and a few major acquisition deals involving select corporations.

An important factor that propels investors to invest in foreign lands is that the host state will keep its side of the bargain by honouring contracts and enforcing awards even when it loses. But when the host state refuses to do so, it rattles the investors, shakes their confidence in the host state’s credibility towards the rule of law, and escalates the regulatory risk enormously. Sadly, to an extent, this has been India’s story over the last few years.

Defiance of awards

Last year, India lost two high-profile bilateral investment treaty (BIT) disputes to two leading global corporations — Vodafone and Cairn Energy — on retrospective taxation. The responsibility for these two adverse arbitral awards lies at the door of the United Progressive Alliance-2 (UPA-2) government that startlingly amended the tax law retrospectively after losing a case to Vodafone at the Supreme Court. The current government, instead of remedying the past mistake by honouring both the arbitral awards and restoring India’s lost credibility in the eyes of the investor community, continues to exhibit the same defiance. India has challenged both the awards at the courts of the seat of arbitration. While India is well within its rights to do so, it continues to maintain that it ‘never agreed to arbitrate’ a tax dispute – an argument that the Cairn tribunal rejected unequivocally, and rightly so.

As India drags its feet on the issue of compliance, Cairn has launched legal proceedings in the U.S. to enforce the arbitral award of $1.2 billion by seizing the assets of Air India. This not only puts Air India in dire straits, especially when the government is attempting to privatise it, but also harms India’s reputation in dealing with foreign investors.

The interminable Devas saga

The other set of high-profile BIT disputes which stick out like a sore thumb for India arose from the cancellation of an agreement between Antrix, a commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, and Devas Multimedia, a Bengaluru-based start-up, for the lease of satellite spectrum. The UPA-2 government annulled this agreement arbitrarily on the grounds of national security. This annulment led to three legal disputes — a commercial arbitration between Antrix and Devas Multimedia at the International Chambers of Commerce (ICC), and two BIT arbitrations brought by the Mauritius investors in Devas Multimedia under the India-Mauritius BIT and by Deutsche Telekom, a German company, under the India Germany BIT. India lost all three disputes. The ICC arbitration tribunal ordered Antrix to pay $1.2 billion to Devas after a U.S. court confirmed the award earlier this year. India challenged the Deutsche Telekom tribunal award in the Swiss Federal Tribunal (being the court of supervision of the arbitration) requesting for annulment, but lost the case.

After the ICC award, Indian agencies started investigating Devas accusing it of corruption and fraud. In what seemed to be a case of pulling a rabbit out of the hat, last month, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) ordered the liquidation of Devas on the ground that the affairs of the company were being carried on fraudulently. Further, the NCLT directed the official liquidator to prevent Devas from perpetuating its fraudulent activities and abusing the process of law in enforcing the ICC award. This has led to Devas issuing a notice of intention to initiate a new BIT arbitration against India, sowing the seeds for complex legal battles again.

Indisputably, transgressions by foreign investors should be dealt with firmly. But a closer reading of these cases reveals that whenever India loses a case to a foreign investor, immediate compliance rarely happens. Instead, efforts are made to delay the compliance as much as possible. While these efforts may be legal, it sends out a deleterious message to foreign investors. It shows a recalcitrant attitude towards adverse judicial rulings. This may not help India in attracting global corporations to its shores to ‘make for the world’, as Mr. Modi correctly aspires.

Prabhash Ranjan will soon join the Jindal Global Law School as a Professor and Vice Dean. Pushkar Anand is an Assistant Professor of Law at Delhi University. Views are personal

It makes no sense to appoint Army officials as advisers for anti-Maoist operations in the Home Ministry

In recent times, whenever personnel of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) have suffered reverses, there has been an immediate hue and cry, particularly from Army veterans, that the training and skills of CAPF personnel need to be honed. They follow it up with preposterous suggestions that ex-servicemen from the Army should be inducted into the CAPF.

Unfortunately, a majority of TV channels invite Army veterans and at times even Air Force veterans to give their ‘expert opinions’ when some attacks by Maoists take place, as was the case in Bijapur on April 3, 2021. In that incident, five security personnel were killed and over 12 injured in an encounter with Maoists. Even senior IPS officers who may never have been involved in combating Maoists in field situations appear on channels to air their ‘expert opinions’.

On the battlefront

The allegations that CAPF personnel are not well-trained falls flat when we look into the history of these paramilitary forces. Border Security Force (BSF) and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were in the battlefront in the 1971 India-Pakistan war and won medals.

As part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, CRPF personnel fought the militants there.

Every year, CRPF personnel observe April 9 as Valour Day in commemoration of the incident at Sardar Post in the Raan of Kutch in 1965 when a small contingent repulsed a Brigade strength attack of the Pakistan Army. The CRPF contingent killed 34 Pakistani soldiers and captured four of them alive. Though six CRPF men sacrificed their lives while holding on to the post until reinforcement arrived, the incident found entry into the annals of war history wherein a paramilitary force could inflict heavy casualties on a regular Army Brigade.

If the north-eastern States enjoy peace and tranquillity these days, the credit goes in large measure to the CAPF personnel deployed in every State in the region. Though some insurgent outfits are still active in certain parts, they do not pose a very serious threat.

In the Punjab, it was the CRPF alongside the Punjab Police that brought the situation under control.

Several operations conducted jointly by the CRPF and the Kashmir Police resulted in many losses for the militants and caused little damage to the security forces. This brought a modicum of order in the region. As Deputy Inspector General of Police (Operations) of CRPF in the Valley, this writer along with CRPF Battalions and the Special Operations Group of the Kashmir Police was involved in several operations. In almost all these operations, the security forces emerged unscathed. The Army was never associated in any operations in Srinagar then.

A versatile force

It is absurd to appoint Army officials as advisers for anti-Maoist operations in the Ministry of Home Affairs. What exposure and experience do they have to combat Maoists? The Army has never fought against the Maoists. What sort of advice can they be expected to render to the experts of the CAPFs in the field who have spent a major part of their lives combating insurgents and extremists?

Trained initially by State police officers, the Greyhounds, a specialised commando outfit of erstwhile Andhra Pradesh, was able to inflict heavy casualties on Maoists forcing them to migrate to neighbouring States. The elite Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA) has played a stellar role in killing some top Maoist leaders and continue to be dreaded by the Maoists.

The CAPFs have well-established training centres across the country with instructors of high calibre. Let us not cast aspersions on their training or competence. The fact that they are able to tackle terrorism in Kashmir, fight the Maoists in left wing extremism-affected States, combat insurgency in the Northeast, ensure smooth conduct of elections and control riots across the country speaks volumes about their versatility .

M.P. Nathanael is Inspector General of Police (Retd), CRPF

The trend of imputing seditious designto criticism of the government is disturbing

The sedition case against Lakshadweep film-maker Aisha Sultana has all the undesirable indicators of the misuse of the penal provision: intolerance towards any strident criticism of policy, tendency to discern non-existent threats to the state and deliberate resort to it despite the absence of any ingredient of the offence. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the Kerala High Court has granted her anticipatory bail mainly on the ground that neither Section 124A, which penalises seditious speech or writing, nor Section 153B, which seeks to punish imputations against national integration, is attracted. There may be some cause for those in the Lakshadweep administration to feel aggrieved that the film-maker, in the course of a heated discussion on the policy changes sought to be brought about by the Administrator, accused the authorities of unleashing a “bioweapon” against the people by relaxing quarantine rules for those entering Lakshadweep. However, as the court has rightly pointed out, there is nothing in use of the term that tended to create disaffection against the government or incite the people against it. It ought to have been clear to everyone except the administration, its police and the BJP functionary who complained against her speech that there was no malice or motive to subvert the government established by law. Of course, it is noteworthy that the police did not rush to arrest her, but only issued a notice to her to appear before the police to explain her remarks, indicating that there may not have been a threat of arrest.

Yet, the very institution of the case is questionable. It is disconcerting that courts are repeatedly called upon to reiterate that strong speech or writing against government policy is not enough to book someone for sedition, and that only incitement to violence or an inclination to cause public disorder amounts to such an offence. The court considered the political context in which the vehement criticism of the administration has come about. There is much debate about the administrative changes introduced by the Administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, since he assumed office last December. The context, indeed, was the criticism of the modified operating procedure, under which the mandatory provision for quarantining visitors to Lakshadweep was given up. Many attribute the exponential rise in COVID-19 cases to this modification. Another Bench of the High Court has stayed the administration’s order to close down dairy farms run by the Animal Husbandry Department and remove meat from the menu for school mid-day meals. When controversial orders are made, they do have a propensity to attract vehement protests and strident criticism. Unfortunately, the tendency to accuse critics and detractors of having a design to provoke disaffection against the government is spreading among authorities across the country. It is clear the problem lies in the continuance of questionable provisions such as the one on sedition on the statute book.

Govt. should require Twitter to follow rules, but not be vindictive for political reasons

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s censure of Twitter, after it temporarily blocked his account upon receiving a notice for copyright violation last week, is valid, but only to an extent. Mr. Prasad was right in calling out Twitter, as he did over a series of tweets, for not giving him prior notice of the blocking, as required by India’s IT Act rules. The blocking was triggered because Twitter had reportedly received a notice for violations under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), filed by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry, the content in question being A.R. Rahman’s song ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who is also the Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, replied to Mr. Prasad, saying he had a similar experience. “Locking is a foolish response to a DMCA notice; disabling the video (which they’ve now done) should be enough,” Mr. Tharoor wrote. Having raised the issue, however, Mr. Prasad went on a needless attempt to make the issue look more than what it really is. One of his tweets in this regard was this: “It is apparent that my statements calling out the high handedness and arbitrary actions of Twitter, particularly sharing the clips of my interviews to TV channels and its powerful impact, have clearly ruffled its feathers.”

It is quite likely that this is just a case of a global platform struggling to adhere to the laws of multiple jurisdictions where it has substantial interests. Mr. Tharoor’s point in this regard needs highlighting. He tweeted, “But getting a notice from a UK-based organisation, citing @Twitter’s role as a ‘service provider’ under a US law, points to the challenges of @TwitterIndia’s operations in India.” Nothing more needs to be read into it. Mr. Prasad’s outburst is a pointer to the level of deterioration in the relationship between Twitter and the Indian Government. Their already strained relationship has worsened further after Twitter’s defiance in not accepting all of the Government’s takedown requests from time to time. The problematic new IT rules have also contributed to this unease. But then Twitter also has to share some blame. It has opened itself up to attacks from all sides because of its inability to pull down or label problematic content consistently. It has also come across as being indifferent in adhering to the requirements of the new IT rules, including the timely appointment of a grievance officer. On the other hand, it would be best for the Government to just let the rules do the talking rather than take every opportunity to raise the pitch. This only makes it look inefficient and cantankerous.

Calicut, June 28: Mr. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer at the Kerala High Court said here last evening that political freedom by itself was not sufficient to complete the revolution to which the Indian people had dedicated themselves. A ballot, he said, was not a bread. It could only bring bread. Speaking on “Fundamental rights under the Indian Constitution and social revolution” at a symposium organised in memory of Mr. C.K. Govindan Nair at the Town Hall, he said that he had always felt when hearing politicians denouncing courts that the judges were more sinned against than sinning. The judiciary did and must occupy the highest place in the constitutional set-up and must play its role in bringing about a constitutional revolution through law so that there might not be any attempt at insurrection by unruly elements in defiance of law. He said the people had waited for long for changes. The signs of ideological violence were symptoms of a deep disease. The challenge of disorder could be met only by a constitutional revolution.