SC agrees to hear plea seeking SIT probe into violence against Muslims in Tripura

THE Supreme Court, on Monday, agreed to hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking an independent and impartial investigation by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the recent incidents of violence against the Muslim community in Tripura.  A bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna directed the issuance of notice to the Tripura Government and the Central Government.  Advocate Prashant Bhushan appeared for the petitioner, Ehtesham Hashmi.
The matter will now be heard on December 13.
The petitioner, an advocate, was part of a fact-finding team that visited the violence-hit part of Tripura, in his plea, alleges that organized mobs committed hate crimes such as damaging the mosques, burning of business establishments owned by Muslims, organizing rallies shouting Islamophobic & genocidal hate slogans and delivering hate speeches targeting Muslims in various parts of Tripura.

It alleges that despite the gravity and sheer magnitude of the incidents, the State Government has taken no concrete steps against the miscreants.

The petition highlights the following:

  • The Police and State authorities, instead of attempting to stop the violence, kept on claiming that there was no communal tension anywhere in Tripura and further denied reports of any mosque being set ablaze. However, eventually, the Police protection was extended to several mosques; orders were issued under Section 144 IPC, and compensation was also announced for the victims of the violence.
  • The West Agartala Police Station has sent a notice u/s 41 A of the Criminal Procedure Code to two of the advocates who had accompanied the petitioner to conduct a fact-finding exercise and document the incidents of violence, imputing that it was their social media posts, statements and report which were responsible for “promoting enmity between religious groups as well as provoking people of different religious communities to commit a breach of peace”.
  • The Police also invoked the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against 102 people, including journalists, for reporting and writing on the recent communal violence in the State.
  • The Police authorities failed to lodge FIRs on complaints made by several victims belonging to the Muslim community. One such complaint was made after the mosque at the CRPF campus in Panisagar was burnt. However, no FIR has been lodged in this connection. The complainant was verbally abused by the police authorities when he requested that an FIR be lodged on his complaint. Two other complaints dated October 29, made by shop owners had not been taken cognizance of by the police authorities.
  • Not a single arrest has been made by the police of the rioters who were responsible for the vandalism and violence.

The present is the second litigation before the Supreme Court arising from the communal violence in Tripura. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Tripura police on a petition filed by three persons, accused by state police under the stringent UAPA, seeking to quash the First Information Report (FIR) against them for their tweets and comments on social media on the recent violence in Tripura targeting minorities. A special bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant had directed that no coercive action would be taken against the accused persons in the meantime.

In the current case, the petitioner has urged the Court to ensure the strict compliance of its directions issued in Tehseen Poonawalla v. Union of India, also known as the mob-lynching case. In this case, the Supreme Court in 2018 had issued a set of guidelines to the Central Government, the state governments, and union territories (UTs)  to curb the widespread incidents of mob lynching in the country.

Compulsory registration of First Information Reports (FIR), the appointment of a senior police officer as a nodal officer in each district for taking measures to prevent mob violence and lynching, the framing of a victim compensation scheme, a time-bound trial in cases of mob lynching to departmental action against police or district officials who fail to act against the perpetrators were some of the guidelines among others that were issued by the Court. More importantly, it also recommended that Parliament create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same. The reason for such a recommendation in the court’s own words was that a special statute would instill a sense of fear for the law among the people involved in violence of this nature.

However, a year later, the Court came across a plea seeking implementation of its guidelines. On July 26, 2019, the Supreme Court issued notices to the Union Home Ministry, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, NCT of Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. The plea is still pending.

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