Supreme Court reserves order in PIL on cow vigilantism, says it is against mob lynching

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Supreme Court will soon be delivering an elaborate judgment on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Tehseen Poonawala and Tushar Gandhi, seeking action preventive measures against lynching in the name of cow vigilantism. The case was listed for hearing today, July 3, 2018, before a bench consisting of Chief Justice Dipak Misra, Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud. The court after hearing the counsels for the petitioners — Senior Advocates Indira Jaising, Colin Gonsalves and Sanjay Hegde — and the Additional Solicitor General (ASG) P S Narasimha on behalf of the Union of India, reserved the order with a direction to file written submissions in short within three days.

The petition filed by Tushar Gandhi highlights more than 60 newspaper reports to demonstrate a pattern of extrajudicial killings of people belonging to the Dalit and Muslim communities in the false pretext of cow protection. Earlier, the apex court in its interim order passed on September 6, 2017, had ordered for the appointment of a senior police officer as the nodal officer in each district, who would ensure cow vigilantes don’t take law into their hands. Also, court sought compliance report from states.

Buck stops with the Centre

During the course of the hearing today, senior advocate Sanjay Hedge relied upon the the Supreme Court judgment dated March 27, 2018 in the matter of Shakti Vahini vs Union Of India (known as the “honour killing case”) and urged the court to make guidelines passed in that case applicable in the cases of mob lynching in the name of cow vigilantism. On the other hand, senior advocate Indira Jaising, while representing Tushar Gandhi, pressed for the summoning of the Chief Secretaries of states for failing in preventing the death caused by cow vigilantes. However, the court did not pass any orders on the contempt petition and ordered to keep the same on the files of the Court.

Jaising further stated that the Union of India had a duty under Article 257 of the Constitution to issue directions to the States. However, the court was not inclined to go into the that line of argument. She also objected to an application filed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs seeking removal of its name from the array of parties in this case. She also stated that lynching was taking place on highways and railway stations that come within the jurisdiction of the Union of India, and therefore it was surprising that the central government was washing its hands off the case altogether.      

Union and states both culpable

At this, ASG P S Narasimha said he was not aware of any such application and he was ever ready to assist the court in this matter. The ASG further submitted that Government of India had been “issuing advisories to states” to take effective measures against such groups which are taking law into their hands. At this juncture, Jaising told the Court that merely issuing advisories to states was not sufficient and the Union of India “couldn’t just run away from its duty”. She relied upon the Supreme Court judgment in Swaraj Abhiyan v. Union of India wherein it was observed that the Union and the States are co-equals in the Indian federal structure.     

On the other hand, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves representing an intervener sought responsibility of nodal officers to register FIRs against those leaders who make provocative, incendiary “hate” speech. He referred to sections 153A, 153B, 295A and 298 of the IPC under which action should be taken, he said. He also noted that such hate speeches are allowed on TV channels when these leaders come on various news platforms.

On the issue of who could be a victim of cow vigilantism, the Court had an exchange with senior advocate Indira Jaising. She submitted that victim should be inferred to be from a protected category as referred in Article 15 of the Constitution. However,  the Court did not agree and said anybody could be a victim of vigilantism.