Bowing to public pressure and criticism from the court, the Maharashtra government today informed the Bombay High Court that it has decided to drop sedition charge against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi for allegedly insulting national symbols.
"After having a close look at the case, it can be seen that there is clearly no case under section 124(a) of IPC for sedition. Hence the government has decided to drop invocation of the charge against Trivedi," Advocate General Darius Khambata told the court.
A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice NM Jamdar was hearing a public interest litigation filed by a lawyer Sanskar Marathe against the arrest of Trivedi for sedition for drawing cartoons that allegedly insulted national emblem and Parliament.
The court had, at an earlier hearing, granted bail to Trivedi and come down heavily on the police for arresting the cartoonist on "frivolous grounds" and "without application of mind".
The court had observed that the police action "breached" the political cartoonist's "freedom of speech and expression".
Khambata, however, told the court that out of the seven cartoons drawn by Trivedi the state had found violations in three cartoons.
"Three cartoons we still find are violative of the National Honour Act and Information Technology Act. Proceedings in this will continue against him," Khambata said.
He further said that the police action against the cartoonist was a "bonafide knee jerk reaction" to the numerous complaints received by them against the cartoons.
"Arresting him was bad enough but police sought his custody also. That was more shocking," Chief Justice Shah said.
The bench said had the arrest not been made no one would have known about those cartoons and the cartoonist.
"In order to prevent such cases in the future the court should hear this matter on scope of section 124(a). The state government has proposed to come out with a circular indicating the limitations and parameters of the said section," the court said.
The bench has directed the government to submit a draft circular by October 19.