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SC says vigilantism is a threat to constitutional order, urges Centre to make a law

Anurag Dey | Updated on: 17 July 2018, 18:08 IST
(Arya Sharma)

Coming down hard on incidents of lynching and mobocracy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday recommended Parliament to enact a special law to “instill a sense of fear for law” amongst the people and create a separate offence for lynching.

Delivering the judgment in multiple petitions on the issue of lynching, a Chief Justice Dipak Misra headed Apex Court Bench also laid down a host of preventive, remedial and punitive measures to deal with mob violence and cow vigilantism.

It also said that state governments have the principal obligation to ensure that cow vigilantism or any other vigilantism of any perception, does not take place.

'Mob violence can turn into a Typhon like monster'

“The tumultuous dark clouds of vigilantism have the effect of shrouding the glorious ways of democracy and justice leading to tragic breakdown of the law and transgressing all forms of civility and humanity. Unless these incidents are controlled, the day is not far when such monstrosity in the name of self-professed morality is likely to assume the shape of a huge cataclysm,” the Bench said in the judgment.

Amid the recent spate of lynchings caused by fake news, the court expressed alarm saying mob violence can turn into a “Typhon like monster”.

“Lynching and mob violence are creeping threats that may gradually take the shape of a Typhon-like monster as evidenced in the wake of the rising wave of incidents of recurring patterns by frenzied mobs across the country instigated by intolerance and misinformed by circulation of fake news and false stories,” said the Bench.

“These extrajudicial attempts under the guise of protection of the law have to be nipped in the bud; lest it would lead to rise of anarchy and lawlessness which would plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic,” it said.


Vigilantism can undermine constitutional order

Asserting that lynching and barbaric violence cannot be allowed to become the order of the day, the court said that such vigilantism, be for whatever purpose or whatever cause, can undermine legal and formal institutions of the State and alter the constitutional order.

“Rising intolerance and growing polarisation expressed through spate of incidents of mob violence cannot be permitted to become the normal way of life or the normal state of law and order in the country,” the Bench said.

The court’s observation are an indictment of the Hindutva brigade -- the principal force behind cow vigilantism, which has received tremendous boost since the ascendance of the Narendra Modi government at the Centre.

Mincing no words in condemning mobocracy, the apex court said the executive’s inability to deal with mob vigilantism was aggravating the problem.

“There has been an unfortunate litany of spiralling mob violence and agonised horror presenting a grim and gruesome picture that compels us to reflect whether the populace of a great Republic like ours has lost the values of tolerance to sustain a diverse culture.

“Besides, bystander apathy, numbness of the mute spectators of the scene of the crime, inertia of the law enforcing machinery to prevent such crimes and nip them in the bud and grandstanding of the incident by the perpetrators of the crimes including in the social media aggravates the entire problem,” it said.


Preventive, remedial and punitive measures

The court also laid down a slew of guidelines for the states to tackle the phenomena.

Under preventive measures the court directed the state governments to appoint a nodal officer in each district for taking measures to prevent mob violence and lynching and constitute a special task force for gathering intelligence on likelihood of such crimes being committed and people involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.

It also directed the Director General of Police/the Secretary, Home Department of the states to hold regular review meetings with all the Nodal Officers and State Police Intelligence heads.

The court also asked the Central and State Governments to broadcast on radio/television/media including the official websites of the home department and state police that lynching and mob violence of any kind shall invite serious consequence under the law.

It also mandated the Central and State Government a to curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms.

Under remedial measures the court gave all the states a month’s time to prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme and asked the states to earmark designated courts in each district for specifically trying of such cases.

The guidelines also mandate the designated courts to hold trials of cases of lynching and mob violence on a day to day basis and conclude within six months from the date of taking cognizance.

The Bench said that upon conviction the courts shall award maximum sentence to set a stern example.

Under punitive measures the court provided for disciplinary action against officials for their failure to prevent any incident of lynching or mob violence despite having prior knowledge of it or for their failure to promptly apprehend and institute criminal proceedings against the culprits.

“We think it appropriate to recommend to the legislature, to create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same. We have said so as a special law in this field would instill a sense of fear for law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities,” the Bench said in the judgment.

First published: 17 July 2018, 18:08 IST