It is a sad reflection of the judiciary that chief judicial magistrate Surya Kant Tiwary in Bihar’s Muzaffarpur should consider it fit to order charges under sedition among other sections of the Indian Penal Code against 49 celebrities for appealing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi against lynching and expressing concern over increasing identity based hate crimes against Muslims, Dalits and other minorities in India.

The appeal dated 23 July was signed by film stars and distinguished citizens including Ramachandra Guha, Mani Ratnam, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Soumitra Chatterjee, Anurag Kashyap, Subha Mudgal and Aparna Sen. There was no tinge of political motivation in their open appeal to the Prime Minister. On a complaint by advocate Sudhir Kumar Ojha and order passed by magistrate Tiwary, the case was lodged at Muzaffarpur’s Sadar police station.

According to the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court in he Kedar Nath judgment, a person can be charged with sedition only if there is incitement to violence in speech or writing or an intention to create disorder. The magistrate’s order is nothing but legal harassment. This is a chilling and shocking action and violative of Article 19 of the Constitution. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms. Where is our democracy heading if citizens cannot bring their grievances to the attention of the Prime Minister without fear being hauled up before court of law?

When higher judiciary drags its feet on cases of political importance, subordinate judiciary is likely to act extra-judicially to harass innocent citizens. Within 24 hours of the Muzaffarpur chief judicial magistrate slapping sedition charge against 49 celebrities for appealing to the Prime Minister against identity-based hate crimes against minorities, a group of 71 senior retired civil servants petitioned the Prime Minister against “selective targeting” of retired and serving officers for gaining narrow political advantages. The move to prosecute four former officers of the Ministry of Finance ~ Sindhushree Khullar, Anup Pujari, Prabodh Saxena and Rabindra Prasad ~ in the INX media case, is bound to have dangerous repercussions on serving officers, they claimed.

It will not be surprising if civil servants procrastinate before processing and examining every proposal of importance as they have no guarantee that they would not be implicated in criminal proceedings many years later. It is unfortunate that officers, especially those no longer in service, are made to bear the brunt of criminal proceedings that originate from settling of political scores.

All regimes, irrespective of their political affiliations, at both Central and State levels, have been guilty of this transgression. Serving officials will be demotivated if diligent and honest officers are selectively targeted for punishment for no fault of theirs other than that they were implementing the policy decisions of the government of the day. If files are allowed to be exhumed and dissected on the basis of hindsight and that too with no bar on time that has elapsed, no decisions will be taken at all in government, the petitioners warned.