Cases relating to ‘Sedition’ and those registered under the UAPA have been discussed widely in the last few years. Data indicates that the three states of Manipur, Jammu & Kashmir, Assam accounted for more than 70% of the cases registered under UAPA between 2014 & 2020. On the other hand, the nine states of Assam, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Haryana, Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, and Manipur accounted for more than 75% of the cases registered under Sedition.
Recently, the Tripura Police charged lawyers and social media handles under the anti-terrorism law, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). The social media handles were booked for making posts, which according to the police, had the ‘potential to flare up communal tension’ in the state. Besides, there have been numerous discussions surrounding the legislations of UAPA and Sedition law in India for the past few years, on the utility and use of these laws. Even the Supreme Court, earlier this year, expressed concern over the misuse of the sedition law- Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which was framed in the colonial era. The court asked the Union government why the law should not be struck down while hearing a petition filed by a retired Army general, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC.
Comprehensive information on ‘Offences Against the State’ published by NCRB since 2014
As per the information provided in the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), offences against the State include those crimes under both IPC and Special & Local laws which involve criminal activities that are directed against the existence of the state itself such as treason, sedition and rebellion. Sedition (Section 124A) is a crime under IPC while UAPA falls under the category of ‘SLL Crimes’ in the annual Crime in India report released by the NCRB. There are other provisions such as sections 121, 121A, 122, 123, 153A and 153B of IPC, the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, The Official Secrets Act, etc., the cases under which are also reported under ‘offences against the State’. The NCRB report began publishing comprehensive information on ‘Offences Against the State’ only since 2014.
Cases under ‘Offences Against the State’ reduced since 2017
According to the NCRB Crime in India (CII) report, a total of 5,613 cases of ‘offences against the State’ were registered by police across the country in 2020 alone. This includes 796 cases under UAPA and 73 cases under Sedition. However, this number is the least since 2015. The number of registered cases of ‘offences against the state’ increased from over 5,000 in 2014 to more than 9,000 cases in 2017- an increase of nearly 67% in three years. However, since 2017, the number of cases has been reducing. The number in 2020 is the lowest since 2015.
During the seven-year period (2014 to 2020), the cases registered under UAPA, and Sedition together constituted nearly 15% of all the cases registered under this head. Of the total 49,000 odd cases registered during this period, a total of 6,900 cases were registered under UAPA and 399 cases were registered under Sedition.
An average of 986 cases under UAPA & 57 under Sedition registered annually since 2014
An average of 986 cases were registered under UAPA and 57 under Sedition, annually since 2014. While the number of cases under UAPA went up from 897 in 2015 to more than 1200 in 2019, the number dropped to below 800 in 2020, the year of the pandemic. This reduction is in line with the overall reduction in the number of crimes reported in the country. Meanwhile, the number of cases registered under Sedition crossed 50 in 2017 and touched the highest of 93 cases in 2019 and subsequently dropped to 73 in 2020.
Three states account for more than 70% of cases registered under UAPA
Of the total 6,900 cases registered during 2014 & 2020 under the UAPA, Manipur accounted for the highest number of cases with 2,595 accounting for almost 38% of such cases. Jammu & Kashmir is next in line with 1,208 cases followed by Assam with 1,071 cases. The three states which were the only ones to have reported more than 1,000 cases each accounted for nearly 71% of the cases registered in the country. Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, and Kerala were the other states which reported more than 100 cases each. These five states along with Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, and Manipur, accounted for more than 95% of the cases registered in India. Numbers clearly indicate that more such cases are registered in the Northeastern states. Large states of Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Telangana had fewer than 10 cases registered under UAPA during the seven-year period of 2014 & 2020.
Between 2014 & 2020, the number of cases registered under UAPA in Manipur dropped from 630 in 2014 to 169 in 2020, a decrease of 73%. Assam witnessed an increase in cases from 148 in 2014 to 308 in 2018 which fell to 87 in 2019. Meanwhile, in Jammu & Kashmir, the number of cases gradually went up from 45 in 2014 to 287 in 2020, marking a 6-fold increase during this period.
9 states accounted for more than 75% of the cases under Sedition between 2014 and 2020
Under the sedition law, Assam reported the greatest number of cases (66), followed by Jharkhand (40), Karnataka (38), and Haryana (37) during the seven-year period of 2014 to 2020. These four states, along with Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, and Manipur accounted for 76% of the 399 cases registered under Sedition in all of India between 2014 and 2020. On the other side, Maharashtra and Punjab reported only one case each under sedition during this period.
The state-wise trend indicates that in Assam, 65 of the 66 cases were registered after 2016. Similarly, 25 of the 27 cases in Jammu & Kashmir, and 20 out of 21 cases in Manipur were registered after 2017. Though Bihar is among the top 6 states with the most sedition cases, the 25 cases registered in the state were in 2014 and 2015 only. No cases under sedition have been registered since then.
82% cases under sedition and 85% under UAPA were pending disposal by police by end of 2020
The pendency of all IPC crimes with the police was about 38.2% by the end of 2020 and 29.2% by the end of 2019. On the other hand, the percentage of cases registered under ‘offences against the state’ pending police disposal was the highest by the end of 2020 at 60.8% while it was 54.3% by the end of 2019. In other words, the police disposal of cases registered under ‘offences against the state’ was much lower compared to the other IPC crimes.
As far as sedition cases are concerned, 82.2% of the cases were pending with the police by the end of 2020 which was 69.4% by the end of 2019. For cases registered under UAPA, the pendency at the police was close to 90% by the end of 2016 which reduced to 76.5% in 2018 and increased to 85% by the end of 2020.
Pendency of Sedition & UAPA cases with the Courts crossed 90% by the end of 2020
The pendency of cases with the courts, registered under sedition was above 91% by the end of 2016 which reduced to 74.1% by the end of 2019. However, by the end of 2020, the pendency with courts increased to 94.5%. During the same period, the percentage of cases pending with the courts & registered under UAPA reduced from 97.8% by the end of 2016 to 88.4% by the end of 2019. However, as with other heads, the pendency of these cases with the courts increased to 94.6% by the end of 2020. In other words, only 5.5% of the cases under sedition and 5.4% cases under UAPA that were up for trial were disposed in 2020. This is in line with the court pendency all IPC crimes of 93.8%
Both Sedition law and UAPA have been widely critiqued
The Sedition law and UAPA have been criticized by many for being draconian and stringent, with scope for misuse. The sedition legislation was brought in during the colonial rule to stop activities of Indians who would otherwise criticize or raise their voice against British rule. Thus, the relevance of the sedition provision in the present day has been questioned by many. In 2018, the Law Commission of India released a consultation paper on sedition, inviting public feedback. The committee noted that the law penalizes anyone who attempts to bring hatred or disaffection towards the government, which needs to be debated in an independent and democratic nation. Further, in the 1962 case of Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar, the Court held that the law was to punish subversion of a lawfully established government through violent means only. Likewise, the UAPA has also been criticized for enabling the State to arrest an individual and making it difficult to get bail.
Featured Image: Sedition and UAPA cases