Sanskar Marathe v. State of Maharashtra

Prachi Kumari

One More Attempt To Strengthen The Freedom Of Speech And Expression

The Bombay HC in the case of Sanskar Marathe vs. State of Maharashtra ((2015 SCC OnLine Bom 587))has clarified that mere criticism is not seditious. The judgment came on 17 March 2015. In this case, a bench comprising of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice N.M. Jamdar of Bombay HC observed: “it is clear that the provisions of section 124A of IPC cannot be invoked to penalize criticism of the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on administration or strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of Government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means.”

Arrest of Aseem Trivedi on 8 September 2012 for commission of offence of sedition punishable under section 124A of IPC led towards filing of the present PIL by Mr. Sanskar Marathe as Mr. Trivedi refused to ask for bail before sedition charges are lifted. Allegations in FIR said that Aseem Trivedi, who is a political cartoonist and social activist, through his cartoons not only defamed parliament, the constitution of India and the Ashok emblem but also tried to spread hatred and disrespect against the Govt. and published the said cartoons on ‘India against Corruption’ website, which not only amounts to insult under the National Emblems Act but also amounts to serious act of sedition.

The present judgment has come at the time when ‘freedom of speech and expression’ is in limelight because of many reasons including recent ban imposed by C.B.F.C. on cuss words. This pronouncement consolidates the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by constitution of India. Sedition charges are very serious charges and should be imposed only when ingredients of section 124A of IPC are satisfied. Therefore, the court has issued following guidelines as pre-conditions to police for invoking sedition charges:-

  • The words, signs or representations must bring the Government (central or state) into hatred or contempt or must cause or attempt to cause disaffection, enmity or disloyalty to the Government and words/sings/representation must also be an incitement to violence or must be intended or tend to create public disorder or a reasonable apprehension of public disorder;
  • Words, signs or representation against politicians or public servants by themselves do not fall in this category unless the words/signs/representations show them as representative of the Govt.
  • Comments expressing disapproval or criticism of the Govt. with a view to obtaining a change of Govt. by lawful means without any of the above are not sedition under section 124A;
  • Obscenity or vulgarity by itself should not be taken into account as a factor or consideration for deciding whether a case falls within the purview of Section 124A of IPC, for they are covered under other sections of law;
  • A legal opinion in writing which gives reasons addressing the aforesaid must be obtained from Law officer of the District followed within two weeks by a legal opinion in writing from public prosecutor of the state.

The court also said that the above instructions are not exhaustive and other relevant factors depending from case to case may also be kept in mind while applying section 124A of IPC.