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offences against the state

Supreme Court of India

State (N.C.T. Of Delhi) vs Navjot Sandhu@ Afsan Guru on 4 August, 2005

following principles were culled out :

(i) No specific number of persons is necessary to constitute an offence under S.121, Penal Code.

(ii) The number concerned and the manner in which theyare equipped or armed is not material.

(iii) The true criterion is quo animo ( intention?) did the gathering assemble?

(iv) The object of the gathering must be to attain by force and violence an object of a general public nature, thereby striking directly against the King's authority.

(v) There is no distinction between principal and accessory and all who take part in the unlawful act incur the same guilt."

"We conceive the term 'wages war against the Government' naturally to import a person arraying himself in defiance of the Government in like manner and by like means as a foreign enemy would do, and it seems to us, we presume it did to the authors of the Code that any definition of the term so unambiguous would be superfluous."

It has been aptly said by Sir J.F. Stephen "unlawful assemblies, riots, insurrections, rebellions, levying of war are offences which run into each other and not capable of being marked off by perfectly definite boundaries. All of them have in common one feature, namely, that the normal tranquility of a civilized society is, in each of the cases mentioned, disturbed either by actual force or at least by the show and threat of it".

The expression 'waging war' should not be stretched too far to hold that all the acts of disrupting public order and peace irrespective of their magnitude and repercussions could be reckoned as acts of waging war against the Government. A balanced and realistic approach is called for in construing the expression 'waging war' irrespective of how it was viewed in the long long past. An organized movement attended with violence and attacks against the public officials and armed forces while agitating for the repeal of an unpopular law or for preventing burdensome taxes were viewed as acts of treason in the form of levying war. We doubt whether such construction is in tune with the modern day perspectives and standards. Another aspect on which a clarification is called for is in regard to the observation made in the old decisions that "neither the number engaged nor the force employed, nor the species of weapons with which they may be armed" is really material to prove the offence of levying/waging war. (Remember foreign nations are not excluded from applicability of section 121.

Supreme Court of India

Md.Ajmal Md.Amir Kasab @Abu ... vs State Of Maharashtra on 29 August, 2012

The question that arises for consideration, therefore, is what is the true import of the expression “Government of India”? In its narrower sense, Government of India is only the executive limb of the State. It comprises a group of people, the administrative bureaucracy that controls the executive functions and powers of the State at a given time. Different governments, in continuous succession, serve the State and provide the means through which the executive power of the State is employed. The expression “Government of India” is surely not used in this narrow and restricted sense in Section 121. In our considered view, the expression “Government of India” is used in Section 121 to imply the Indian State, the juristic embodiment of the sovereignty of the country that derives its legitimacy from the collective will and consent of its people. The use of the phrase “Government of India” to signify the notion of sovereignty is consistent with the principles of Public International Law, wherein sovereignty of a territorial unit is deemed to vest in the people of the territory and exercised by a representative government.

An illuminating discussion on the issue of “Waging war against the Government of India” is to be found in this Court’s decision in Navjot Sandhu. In paragraph 272 of the judgment P. Venkatarama Reddi, J., speaking for the Court, referred to the report of the Indian Law Commission that examined the draft Penal Code in 1847 and quoted the following passage from the report:

“We conceive the term ‘ wages war against the Government’ naturally to import a person arraying himself in defiance of the Government in like manner and by like means as a foreign enemy would do, and it seems to us, we presume it did to the authors of the Code that any definition of the term so unambiguous would be superfluous.”

548. To us, the expression, “in like manner and by like means as a foreign enemy” (highlighted by us in the above quotation), is very significant to understand the nature of the violent acts that would amount to waging war. In “waging war”, the intent of the foreign enemy is not only to disturb public peace or law and order or to kill many people. A foreign enemy strikes at the sovereignty of the State, and his conspiracy and actions are motivated by that animus.

549. In Navjot Sandhu, the issue of “waging war” against the Government of India has also been considered in relation to terrorist acts and in that regard the Court observed and held as follows:

“275. War, terrorism and violent acts to overawe the established Government have many things in common. It is not too easy to distinguish them……

276. It has been aptly said by Sir J.F. Stephen:

“Unlawful assemblies, riots, insurrections, rebellions, levying of war are offences which run into each other and not capable of being marked off by perfectly definite boundaries. All of them have in common one feature, namely, that the normal tranquility of a civilized society is, in each of the cases mentioned, disturbed either by actual force or at least by the show and threat of it.”

277. To this list has to be added “terrorist acts” which are so conspicuous now-a-days. Though every terrorist act does not amount to waging war, certain terrorist acts can also constitute the offence of waging war and there is no dichotomy between the two. Terrorist acts can manifest themselves into acts of war. According to the learned Senior Counsel for the State, terrorist acts prompted by an intention to strike at the sovereign authority of the State/Government, tantamount to waging war irrespective of the number involved or the force employed.

278. It is seen that the first limb of Section 3(1) of POTA-

“with intent to threaten the unity, integrity, security or sovereignty of India or to strike terror in the people or any section of the people does any act or thing by using bombs, dynamite or other explosive substances or inflammable substances or firearms or other lethal weapons or poisons or noxious gases or other chemicals or by any other substances (whether biological or otherwise) of a hazardous nature or by any other means whatsoever”.

and the acts of waging war have overlapping features. However, the degree of animus or intent and the magnitude of the acts done or attempted to be done would assume some relevance in order to consider whether the terrorist acts give rise to a state of war. Yet, the demarcating line is by no means clear, much less transparent. It is often a difference in degree. The distinction gets thinner if a comparison is made of terrorist acts with the acts aimed at overawing the Government by means of criminal force. Conspiracy to commit the latter offence is covered by Section 121-A.”

Supreme Court of India

Mohd.Arif @ Ashfaq vs State Of Nct Of Delhi on 10 August, 2011

that the evidence as to the transmission of thoughts sharing the unlawful design would be sufficient for establishing the conspiracy. Again there must have been some act in pursuance of the agreement. The offence under Section 121 of conspiring to wage a war is proved to the hilt against the appellant, for which he has been rightly held guilty for the offence punishable under Sections 121 and 121-A, IPC. The appellant is also rightly held guilty for the offence punishable under Section 120-B, IPC read with Section 302, IPC. In the aforementioned decision of Navjot Singh Sandhu it has been held by this Court:

"Thus the conspirator, even though he may not have indulged in the actual criminal operations to execute the conspiracy, becomes liable for the punishment prescribed under Section 302, IPC. Either death sentence or imprisonment for life is the punishment prescribed under Section 302, IPC." (relying on Kehar Singh Vs. State (Delhi Admn.) [AIR 1988 SC 1883)

Supreme Court of India

Shoukat Hussain Guru vs State (Nct) Delhi & Anr on 14 May, 2008

To prove an offence under Section 121, IPC, the prosecution is required to prove that the accused is guilty of waging war against the Government of India or attempts to wage such war, or abets the waging of such war, whereas for proving the offence under Section 123, IPC against the accused the prosecution is required to prove that there was a concealment by an act or by illegal omission of existence of a design to wage war against the Government of India and he intended by such concealment to facilitate, or he knew that such concealment will facilitate, the waging of war. In the present case, the accused was charged under Section 121, IPC for waging war against the Government of India or attempting to wage such war or abetting the waging of such war. The concealment of such fact by an act or illegal omission with an intention to facilitate, or knowing that such concealment will facilitate, waging of war, even in the absence of proof of his involvement in waging of war against the Government of India, will constitute an offence and an accused can always be convicted for the concealment of such fact under Section 123, IPC. The prosecution having been successful in proving the necessary ingredients of Section 123, IPC, it would constitute a minor offence of a major offence and, therefore, the petitioner was convicted under Section 123, IPC which is a minor offence of the offences he faced trial.

Supreme Court of India

Kedar Nath Singh vs State Of Bihar on 20 January, 1962

Bench: Sinha, Bhuvneshwar P.(Cj), Das, S.K., Sarkar, A.K., Ayyangar, N. Rajagopala, Mudholkar, J.R.

"The very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted. Hence the continued existence of the Government established by law is an essential condition of the stability of the State. That is why 'sedition', as the offence in s. 124A has been characterised, comes under Chapter VI relating to offences against the State. Hence any acts within the meaning of s. 124A which have the effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence. In other words, any written or spoken words, etc., which have implicit in them the idea of subverting Government by violent means, which are compendiously included in the term 'revolution', have been made penal by the section in question. But the section has taken care to indicate clearly that strong words used to express disapprobation of the measures of Government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means would not come within the section. Similarly, comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal. In other words, disloyalty to Government established by law is not the same thing as commenting in strong terms upon the measures or acts of Government, or its agencies, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means, that is to say, without exciting those feelings of enmity and disloyalty which imply excitement to public disorder or the use of violence.

What has been contended is that a person who makes a very strong speech or uses very vigorous words in a writing directed to a very strong criticism of measures of Government or acts of public officials, might also come within the ambit of the penal section. But, in our opinion, such words written or spoken would be outside the scope of the section. In this connection, it is pertinent to observe that the security of the State, which depends upon the maintenance of law and order is the very basic consideration upon which legislation, with a view to punishing offences against the State, is undertaken. Such a legislation has, on the one hand, fully to protect and guarantee the freedom of speech and expression, which is the sine quo non of a democratic form of Government that our Constitution has established. This Court, as the custodian and guarantor of the fundamental rights of the citizens, has the duty cast upon it of striking down any law which unduly restricts the freedom of speech and expression with which we are concerned in this case. But the freedom has to be guarded again becoming a licence for vilification and condemnation of the Government established by law, in words which incite violence or have the tendency to create public disorder. A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder. The Court, has, therefore, the duty cast upon it of drawing a clear line of demarcation between the ambit of a citizen's fundamental right guaranteed under Art. 19(1)(a) of the Constitution and the power of the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on that guaranteed right in the interest of, inter alia, security of the State and public order. We have, therefore, to determine how far the ss. 124A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code could be said to be within the justifiable limits of legislation. If it is held, in consonance with the views expressed by the Federal Court in the case of Niharendu Dutt majumdar v. The King Emperor(1) that the gist of the offence of 'sedition' is incitement to violence or the tendency or the intention to create public disorder by words spoken or written, which have the tendency or the effect of bringing the Government established by law into hatred or contempt or creating disaffection in the sense of disloyalty to the State in other words bringing the law into line with the law of sedition in England, as was the intention of the legislators when they introduced s. 124A into the Indian Penal Code in 1870 as aforesaid, the law will be within the permissible limits laid down in cl. (2) of Art. 19 of the Constitution. Viewed in that light, we have no hesitation in so construing the provisions of the sections impugned in these cases as to limit their application to acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence.

The provisions of the sections read as a whole, along with the explanations, make it reasonably clear that the sections aim at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence. As already pointed out, the explanations appended to the main body of the section make it clear that criticism of public measures or comment on Government action, however strongly worded, would be within reasonable limits and would be consistent with the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order. So construed, the section, in our opinion, strikes the correct balance between individual fundamental rights and the interest of public order. It is also well settled that in interpreting an enactment the Court should have regard not merely to the literal meaning of the words used, but also take into consideration the antecedent history of the legislation, its purpose and the mischief it seeks to suppress

Hence, these provisions would not exceed the bounds of reasonable restrictions on the right of freedom of speech and expression. It is clear, therefore, that cl. (2) of Art. 19 clearly save the section from the vice of unconstitutionality."

Supreme Court of India

Raghubir Singh & Others Etc vs State Of Bihar on 19 September, 1986

In this case charge was 124A and 121A

authorship of seditious material alone is not the gist of any of the offences. Distribution or circulation of seditious material may also be sufficient on the facts and circumstances of a case. To act as a courier is sometimes enough in a case of conspiracy. It is also not necessary that a person should be a participant in a conspiracy from start to finish. Conspirators may appear and disappear from stage to stage in the course of a conspiracy.

Supreme Court of India

Balbir Singh And Anr. vs State Of U.P. on 8 April, 1999

appellants have been convicted by the learned Designated Judge Lakhimpur Kheri Under Sections 124A, 153A, I.P.C. and Section 4 of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act, 1987 on the allegation that on 14-11-1985 at 10.30 a.m. they were found to be hearing some cassettes containing speech of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhinderwala. There is not an iota of evidence to indicate that the accused appellants either committed or conspired or attempted to commit or abetted or advocated or advised or knowingly facilitated the commission of any disruptive activity.

We, therefore, set aside the conviction and sentence passed against the appellants and acquit them of the charges leveled against. The appeal" is, accordingly, allowed. The bail bonds of the appellants stand discharged.

ON S.505

In Sunilakhya Chowdhury vs. H.M. Jadwet and another (AIR 1968 Calcutta 266) it has been held that the words "makes or publishes any imputation" should be interpreted as words supplementing to each other. A maker of imputation without publication is not liable to be punished under that section. We are of the view that the same interpretation is warranted in respect of the words "makes, publishes or circulates" in Section 505 IPC also.

Apex Court has held in Balwant Singh and another vs. State of Punjab (1995 3 SCC 214) that mens rea is a necessary ingredient for the offence under Section 153A. Mens rea is an equally necessary postulate for the offence under Section 505(2) also as could be discerned from the words "with intent to create or promote or which is likely to create or promote" as used in that sub-section.

Supreme Court of India

Bilal Ahmed Kaloo vs State Of Andhra Pradesh on 6 August, 1997

The main distinction between the two offences is that publication of the word or representation is not necessary under the former, such publication is sine qua non under Section 505. The words "whoever makes, publishes or circulates" used in the setting of Section 505(2) cannot be interpreted disjunctively but only as supplementary to each other. If it is construed disjunctively, any one who makes a statement falling within the meaning of Section 505 would, without publication or circulation, be liable to conviction. But the same is the effect with Section 153A also and then that Section would have been bad for redundancy. The intention of the legislature in providing two different sections on the same subject would have been to cover two different fields of similar colour. The fact that both sections were included as a package in the same amending enactment lends further support to the said construction.

The common feature in both sections being promotion of feeling of enmity, hatred or ill-will "between different" religious or racial or language or regional groups or castes and communities it is necessary that atleast two such groups or communities should be involved. Merely inciting the felling of one community or group without any reference to any other community or group cannot attract either of the two sections.


Before parting with this judgment, we wish to observe that the manner in which convictions have been recorded for offences under Section 153A, 124A and 505(2), has exhibited a very casual approach of the trial court. Let alone the absence of any evidence which may attract the provisions of the sections, as already observed, even the charges framed against the appellant for these offences did not contain the essential ingredients of the offences under the three sections. The appellant strictly speaking should not have been put to trial for those offences. Mechanical order convicting a citizen for offences of such serious nature like sedition and to promote enmity and hatred etc. does harm to the cause. It is expected that graver the offence, greater should be the care taken so that the liberty of a citizen is not lightly interfered with.

035. Offences against the state
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