The Law Commission has strongly backed the sedition law and has said it should be retained with changes linked to the circumstances of its use. Repealing the law - Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code - would be to "turn a blind eye to the glaring ground realities existing in India," the Commission has said in its report to the government.
The Commission has also recommended that the punishment for sedition be increased from three years in jail to a life term or up to seven years in prison.
The sedition law was challenged before the Supreme Court, which last year suspended criminal trials and court proceedings under the law while allowing the government to reexamine it. The government then asked the Law Commission to review the law.
The Law Commission, in its report, says repealing the sedition law altogether can have "serious adverse ramifications for the security and integrity of the country, with the subversive forces getting a free hand to further their sinister agenda as a consequence.
"Section I24A of IPC has its utility in combating anti-national and secessionist elements as it seeks to protect the elected government from attempts to overthrow it through violent and illegal means," Commission says.
The report recommends amendments to add safeguards before the filing of a sedition case. It suggests that an FIR for the offence of sedition should be registered only after a preliminary inquiry by a police officer not below the rank of Inspector, and after permission from the Central or State government.
It is imperative to lay down procedural guidelines for curbing misuse of the sedition law, but any allegation of misuse does not by implication warrant calls to scrap it, the Law Commission says.
That the sedition law is a "colonial legacy" is also not a valid ground for its repeal, the report adds.
It also counters the argument that there are other laws in place to handle charges of activities deemed anti-national. The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act and the National Security Act "does not by implication cover all elements of the offence envisaged under Section 124A of the IPC," says the report.
Besides, it says, without the sedition law, any offence involving violence against the government would be tried under the special laws and counter-terror legislation that are far more stringent in dealing with those accused.
Each country's legal system grapples with its own different set of realities, argues the Law Commission.
"Repealing Section 124A of IPC on the mere basis that certain countries have done so is essentially turning a blind eye to the glaring ground realities existing in India," it says.
The report refers to the argument that sedition as an offence is a colonial legacy based on the era in which it was enacted, especially given its history of usage against freedom fighters.
"However, going by that virtue, the entire framework of the Indian legal system is a colonial legacy. The police force and the idea of an All-India Civil Service are also temporal remnants of the British era. Merely ascribing the term 'colonial' to a law or institution does not by itself ascribe to it an idea of anachronism. The colonial origins of a law are by themselves normatively neutral. The mere fact that a particular legal provision is colonial in its origin does not ipso facto validate the case for its repeal," the Law Commission says.
There are many examples of various laws being misused to settle scores in cases of personal rivalries and vested interests, the report says, adding that the Supreme Court has also noted it in a number of decisions.
"Never has there been any plausible demand to repeal any such laws merely on the ground that they are being misused by a section of the populace. This is so because for every abuser of that law, there might be 10 other genuine victims of any offence who direly need the protection of such a law," the report says.
What is required is to introduce legal ways and means to prevent the misuse of such a law, it says.