The controversial sedition law will be on hold as the government reviews it and those in jail can approach courts for bail, the Supreme Court ordered today, rejecting the Centre's argument that such trials should continue in courts as charges like terror could be involved. Shortly after the order, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju said while he "respected the court and its independence", there is a "Lakshman Rekha" that cannot be crossed.
"We've made our positions very clear and also informed the court about the intention of our PM (Prime Minister Narendra Modi). We respect the court and its independence. But there's a 'Lakshman Rekha' that must be respected by all organs of the state in letter and spirit. We have to ensure that we respect the provisions of the Indian Constitution as well as existing laws," the Law Minister told reporters.
"We respect each other, the court should respect government, legislature, so as government should also respect court. We have clear demarcation of boundary and that Lakshman Rekha should not be crossed by anybody," Mr Rijiju added.
As he made the sharp comment, Mr Rijiju evaded a question on whether he believed the Supreme Court's decision was wrong.
While pausing the controversial colonial-era law being reviewed by the government, the Supreme Court said the court's job was to balance civil liberty and sovereignty of state, "a difficult exercise". The court also said it is "clear that the Centre agrees that the rigours (of sedition) are not in tune with the current situation".
"It will be appropriate not to use this provision till further re-examination is over. We hope and expect the Centre and state will refrain from registering any FIR under Section 124a (sedition). All pending proceedings to be kept in abeyance," said Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, heading a three-judge bench.
The Supreme Court also said the government was "at liberty" to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law. If fresh cases were filed, courts must "expeditiously dispose" of them, said the Chief Justice.
On Monday, the government, in a u-turn, said it had decided to review the sedition law and requested more time from the Supreme Court, which is hearing petitions challenging the law.
Today's historic order impacts hundreds charged under the colonial-era sedition law once used against Mahatma Gandhi. Those already jailed for sedition can approach courts for bail.
Earlier, at a joint conference of Chief Justices of High Courts and Chief Ministers on April 30, Chief Justice Ramana had also used the words "Lakshman Rekha".
Reminding the state's three organs - the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary - to be "mindful of the Lakshman Rekha while discharging their duties", the Chief Justice had assured governments that "the judiciary would never come in the way of governance if it is in accordance with law".
The Constitution provided for separation of powers between the three organs, clearly outlining their sphere of functioning and delineating their powers and responsibilities, Chief Justice Ramana.