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SC order on vigilantism

SC order on vigilantism

Hearing on a petition on cow vigilantism, the Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre, all states and Union Territories to give wide publicity to the directions given in July this year. A three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachur also took notice of the fact that eight states and Union Territories are yet to file reports indicating compliance of its July verdict. In order to keep people informed about the measures taken by the government to stop vigilante related violence, the top court also asked the states and Union Territories to put the information on their website. When the court's attention was drawn to the fact that one of the directions with regard to giving wide publicity in television and radio has not been complied with, Attorney General KK Venugopal informed the court that necessary steps would be taken within a week. In the last hearing, the attorney general had informed the bench that in line with the apex court verdict, an empowered group of ministers has been constituted to consider framing a law on mob violence. Hearing on a petition, the Supreme Court in July had suggested that the Parliament should enact a law making lynching a separate offence including the provision for compensation to victims. The order had said there cannot be any doubt that the authorities which are entrusted with the task of maintaining law and order in the states have the principal obligation to see that vigilantism does not take place. Giving a series of directions, the court had said the states 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 set up a special task force to procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.

The Supreme Court's direction on Monday underlines the fact that despite a series of mob lynchings in the name of cow vigilantism or child theft, the state governments of the Centre have neither taken any measures to curb such incidents nor implemented the court's orders. The apex court had asked the Centre and state governments to appoint a nodal officer in each district who would look into the cases of mob lynching but many of the states have not filed their compliance report before the court as yet. The laxity shown by the Centre and the states shows that they have not taken due cognizance of the matter and if the apex court is not strict, they may very well allow the matter to be forgotten without taking any remedial measures. The nation was rocked by a series of barbaric attacks on suspected cow smugglers by right-wing vigilante groups. In many of such attacks, the victims died of injuries received in the beating by the vigilantes. Later, a new trend emerged in which innocent people were caught and beaten up leading to their death by enraged mobs who accused the victims of being child-lifters. Similar reports of innocent victims being done to death by mobs were received from many parts of the country including Tripura and Assam in North East to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in South India. Jharkhand and Odisha among other states also reported similar incidents. The brutality of the mob lynchings and the high frequency of the incidents sounded an alarm bell in the government and state administrations. For a moment, it seemed that the rule of law has ceased to exist and mob justice was new normal. Since the vigilantism-related violence began with cow vigilantism, the BJP government at the Centre came in for severe criticism. The government denounced the incidents of mob-lynching and alerted the state governments on measures to be taken to prevent a repetition of such incidents.

But the government also needed to ensure that justice was given to the recent victims of mob lynchings. The apex court in its July ruling had asked the Centre and state governments to provide widespread publicity to measures taken to prevent and stop incidents of mob lynching. The Supreme Court's idea was to make sure that the those involved in vigilante activities should know the consequences of their actions. This would have desisted vigilante groups from committing more such crimes. But many of the state governments and Union Territories have not taken any initiative on the court order. The Centre was asked to frame a separate law for lynching incidents with a provision for compensation to the victims. The Centre, too, has not taken any concrete measures except setting of an empowered group of ministers to consider the different aspects of the law to be enacted.

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