New Delhi: “Horrendous acts of mobocracy” cannot be allowed to overrun the law of the land, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday criticising mob lynchings and “recurrent pattern of violence” and asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to sternly deal with vigilantism.
In a strongly worded 45-page verdict, a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, also issued “preventive, remedial and punitive” guidelines to the Centre and state governments to prevent mob attacks by self-styled cow protectors, asserting that there cannot be any investigation, trial or punishment out on the streets.
Calling incidents of lynching “an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution”, a bench, which also included Justices A.M. Kanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, warned that such incidents may raise a “Typhon-like monster” across the country.
“Citizens cannot take the law into their hands and cannot become the law unto themselves... Horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become a new norm and have to be curbed with iron hands,” the bench said. “In times of chaos and anarchy, the state has to act positively and responsibly to safeguard and secure the constitutional promises to its citizens,” said the bench while hearing a writ petition filed by Tehseen S. Poonawalla. The court said, “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.”
Suggesting to Parliament to enact a law to make lynching a separate offence, including the provision for compensation to victims, the bench said, “A special law in this field would instil a sense of fear for law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities. There can be no trace of doubt that fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilised society.”
The court said instances of lynching and mob violence are creeping threats which may gradually take the shape of a “Typhon-like monster”. In Greek mythology, Typhon is considered the deadliest creature, “father of all monsters”.
The bench also observed that the “state cannot turn a deaf ear to the growing rumblings of its people, since its concern, to quote Woodrow Wilson, must ring with the voices of the people”.
Giving a series of directions, the bench said state governments shall designate a senior police officer, not below the rank of superintendent of police, as nodal officer in each district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching. They shall constitute a special task force to collect intelligence reports about people likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.
The court also told state governments to identify districts, sub-divisions and/or villages where instances of lynching and mob violence have been reported in the last five years. The process of identification should be done within three weeks from the date of this judgment.
The director general of police/secretary, home department of each state shall take regular review meetings (at least once a quarter) with all the nodal officers and state police intelligence heads.
The apex court also said that it shall be the duty of every police officer to disperse mobs, by exercising their power under Section 129 of CrPC, which, in their opinion, can cause violence or “wreak the havoc of lynching in the disguise of vigilantism or otherwise”.
The Central and state governments should broadcast on radio and television and other media platforms, including the official websites of the home department and police, that lynching and mob violence of any kind shall invite serious consequence under the law, the court’s verdict said.
The police shall, the bench said, register FIR under Section 153A of IPC (promoting enmity among people) and other relevant provisions against the perpetrators.
The court also asked all state governments toprepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme within one month. The compensation package, the bench said, must take into consideration not just the nature of bodily injury, but also psychological injury and loss of earnings.
This should include loss of opportunities of employment and education, and expenses incurred on account of legal and medical expenses.
The bench also ordered fast-track trials of lynching accused and suggested that these be concluded within six months.