Supreme Court mulls filling up vacuum in law to control hate speech

A two-judge bench of the Court advised the Union Government not to take an adversarial stand in the matter.

THE Supreme Court earlier today expressed concern at the growing phenomenon of hate speeches across the country, and directed the Union Government to apprise it on whether it was contemplating acting upon the recommendations of the Law Commission of India suggesting certain amendments to the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure to deal with the cases of hate speech.

A division bench comprising Justices K.M. Joseph and Hrishikesh Roy said it would examine the “adequacy” of the current law to deal with hate speech in a meaningful way.

The bench was hearing a batch of petitions concerning hate speech. One of the petitioners is Bharatiya Janta Party leader and lawyer Ashwini Upadhyay, who is seeking implementation of the Law Commission’s recommendation. The bench was also hearing a petition filed by Qurban Ali, a senior tri-lingual (Hindi, Urdu, and English) journalist with more than 35 years of experience, against hate speeches being delivered at dharm sansads being organised by right-wing outfits across different parts of the country.

Justice Joseph, who was heading the bench, expressed his anguish at the unregulated hate speech going on in the name of freedom of speech. Without naming any news anchor, Justice Joseph said that it was the duty of the news anchor not to allow hate speech in their program. “Role of the anchor is very important. Hate speech cannot be allowed”, Justice Joseph stated. Referring to those who give hate speeches, Justice Joseph said they are not being dealt with firmly.

Justice Joseph said that a news anchor can have their own opinion on a certain issue, but they cannot run down the other panellists on the show, and they cannot unmute them. He said this in the context of the right of the listener.

“Fraternity is an important value. It is mentioned in the Preamble. Where is our nation heading to?”, Justice Joseph remarked, adding that political parties are making capital out of hate speech.

Justice Joseph also suggested to the Additional Solicitor General K.M. Natarajan that the government should not take an adversarial stand in the matter.

Justice Joseph said that the court would contemplate filling the legislative vacuum, as was done by the court in its Vishaka judgment in 1997.

The bench directed the government to file its affidavit within two weeks and thereafter, the petitioners would be at liberty to respond to the government’s reply within two weeks therefrom.

The bench will hear the matter again in November. The judges also requested senior advocate Sanjay Hedge who was present in court, to collate the information in all the different petitions and assist the court.