Cong, govt engage in war of words in Lok Sabha over sedition cases

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New Delhi, Mar 16 (PTI) A war of words erupted between the Congress and the government in Lok Sabha on Tuesday over registration of sedition cases with the opposition party alleging that the stringent law is being misused, drawing a sharp retort from Union Minister G Kishan Reddy who asked it not to lecture others on democracy.

During the Question Hour, Congress member from Telangana Anumula Revanth Reddy sought the number of cases registered under the offence of sedition across the country during the last 10 years, the conviction rate and the steps taken for their speedy trial.

The focus of his question was on climate activist Disha Ravi who was arrested in the farmer protest toolkit case earlier this year and later granted bail, and cases registered against farmer union leaders after the January 26 violence in the national capital.

Reddy, the Minister of State for Home, tabled a written response to the question in the House.

According to the data, 47 cases of sedition were registered in 2014; 30 in 2015; 35 in 2016; 51 in 2017; 70 in 2018 and 93 in 2019.

The highest 54 cases of sedition were registered in Assam between 2014 and 2019, 36 in Jharkhand, 31 in Haryana, 30 in Karnataka, 25 in Jammu and Kashmir and 17 in Uttar Pradesh.

The minister also made it clear that 'there is no direct involvement of the Centre in sedition cases'.

However, Anumula was not satisfied with the response. He said he had sought details for 10 years but the information was provided only from 2014-2019.

Anumala said, 'Giving half information is taking the house towards a wrong direction.' He added that after 2014, anyone who criticises the government's policy, the person is charged with sedition.

'In 2019, the conviction rate (for sedition) was 3.3 per cent. This means these are politically motivated cases. If a youth leader is booked for sedition and the cases drags for 4-5 year, he/she is not in a position, they won't get a job, passport, visa. Activists like Disha Ravi are charged, but they are not able to prove anything in the court,' Anumala said.

He also asked whether there is a proposal to drop the 'false charges' against farmer union leaders protesting against the Centre's three farm laws.

In response, the minister said the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data is based on the information received from all the states.

Attacking the Congress, the minister said, 'The member (Anumala) asked as to why the information was not provided before 2014. In case of sedition cases, when the Congress was in power it did not maintain any separate data on this. They clubbed it with all the IPC crimes,' he said.

The minister added that after the Modi government took charge, it started presenting a separate data on the sedition charges.

'...After the rise of social media, after the media awareness...they also give big speeches on democracy. But even after that the cases of sedition are very less,' the minister said.

Manish Tewari, another Congress member, had questions on similar lines. He said Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which deals with sedition was being misused and used to suppress freedom of expression.

Hitting back, the minister said the Congress need not lecture on misuse as it had used the Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) against opposition leaders such as Jayaprakash Narayan and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Anumala and Tewari also asked whether the government was planning to narrow the scope of sedition. The minister said a committee on Criminal Law Reforms under the chairmanship of the vice-chancellor, National Law University, Delhi was formed in February 2020.

Home Minister Amit Shah has written to the chief ministers of all states, judicial officers, various varsities and law universities, law institutes seeking suggestions on the proposed amendments.

After the report is prepared, it will be discussed in Parliament, the minister added. PTI PR ACB SMN