Section 153A: its use and misuse

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    • Recently, a leader of a political party was arrested under section 153 A of IPC for alleged hate speech.

    About Section 153A of the IPC

    • About:
      • Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) penalises “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”. 
      • This is punishable with imprisonment up to three years, with a fine, or both.
    • Origin:
      • Pre-independence:
        • In the pre-Independence Rangila Rasool case, the Punjab High Court had acquitted the Hindu publisher of a tract that had made disparaging remarks about the private life of the Prophet, and had been charged under Section 153A.
      • Post-independence:
        • The provision was enacted in 1898 and was not in the original penal code. 
        • At the time of the amendment, promoting class hatred was a part of the English law of sedition, but was not included in the Indian law.
    • Issue of low conviction:
      • Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that the rate of conviction for Section 153A is very low.
      • In 2020, 1,804 cases were registered, six times higher than the 323 cases in 2014. 
      • However, the conviction rate in 2020 was 20.2%, suggesting that the process often becomes the punishment.
    • Safeguards against misuse
      • Given that the provisions are worded broadly, there are safeguards against its misuse. 
      • Prior sanction:
        • For example, Sections 153A and 153B require prior sanction from the government for initiating prosecution. 
        • But this is required before the trial begins, and not at the stage of preliminary investigation.
      • Supreme Court’s guidelines:
        • No automatic arrest for sentence of fewer than seven years:
          • To curb indiscriminate arrests, the Supreme Court laid down a set of guidelines in its 2014 ruling in Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar. 
          • As per the guidelines, for offences that carry a sentence of fewer than seven years, the police cannot automatically arrest an accused before investigation.
        • Proving intent: 
          • In a 2021 ruling, the SC said that the state will have to prove intent for securing a conviction under Section 153A.

    Source: IE