In a country where citizens have been charged with sedition for drawing a cartoon or putting up a Facebook post criticising a political party or leader, the Congress has promised to scrap laws that they say restrict a person’s freedom, including the sedition and defamation laws. The Congress, which released its manifesto on Tuesday, said the party will initiate a review of all laws, rules and regulations to repeal “instruments that are outdated or unjust or unreasonably restrict the freedoms of people”.
Dubbing freedom as the hallmark of an open and democratic Republic, the Congress manifesto says that, if voted to power, it will regulate laws to reflect our Constitutional value and to codify and reduce the number of laws that must be complied with by a citizen.
The party says that it believes India is “an over-legislated and over-regulated country."
“Laws, Rules and Regulations have proliferated and restricted freedoms. Consequently, there are severe restrictions on innovation, enterprise and experimentation, and economic growth has suffered,” the manifesto reads.
Hence, in a bid to decriminalise such restrictive laws, the Congress promises to omit Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and make defamation a civil offence. Currently, Section 499 is both a criminal and civil offence. Although the section was challenged several times, in 2016, the Supreme Court had upheld Sections 499 of the IPC as constitutionality valid.
The Congress also promises to scrap Section 124A of the IPC, which defines the offence of sedition. “Section 124A has been misused and become redundant because of subsequent laws,” the manifesto reads.
According to Section 124A, 'whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India' shall be punished with life imprisonment.
However, it also says that comments, which express strong disapproval of the measures of the Government, administrative or other action of the Government, ‘with a view to obtain their desired modifications by lawful means’ without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
The Section was not a part of IPC in the 1860s until it was introduced in the IPC in 1870. Since recent years, the law has currently drawn criticisms and objections from various quarters of the country.