Holding hate speeches of social, political and religious leaders based on religion, caste, region or ethnicity a "menace" to society, the Supreme Court asked law-enforcing agencies to book such persons on Wednesday.
The apex court also asked the law commission to examine whether a political party can be de-recognised if it or its members indulged in hate speeches.
A bench headed by Justice B S Chauhan refused to frame guidelines to prevent leaders of different outfits from making provocative speeches, saying, "The statutory provisions and particularly the penal law provide sufficient remedy to curb the menace of hate speeches. The root of the problem is not the absence of laws but rather a lack of their effective execution. Therefore, the executive as well as civil society has to perform its role in enforcing the already existing legal regime.”
"Effective regulation of hate speeches at all levels is required as the authors of such speeches can be booked under the existing penal law and all the law enforcing agencies must ensure that the existing law is not rendered a dead letter," the bench, also comprising justices M Y Eqbal and A K Sikri said.
"We request the law commission to also examine the issues raised thoroughly and also to consider, if it deems proper, defining the expression hate speech and make recommendations to Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of hate speeches irrespective of whenever made," it said.
It also said that the court cannot pass guidelines as it is the power of the legislature and there are already existing laws to deal with the cases of hate speeches.
"The court cannot re-write, re-cast or reframe the legislation for the very good reason that it has no power to legislate. The very power to legislate has not been conferred on the courts. However, of lately, judicial activism of the superior courts in India has raised pubic eyebrow time and again," it said.
Expressing concern over cases of hate speeches, the bench said it is an effort to marginalise individuals based on their membership in a group and to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.
"A hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a societal impact. A hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide," it said.
The court passed the order on a public interest litigation by NGO Pravasi Bhalai Sanghatan alleging that there was need for guidelines as hate speeches destroy the fabric of democracy and violate the provisions of the Constitution.
The PIL had named Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh as respondents as the two states witnessed incidents of alleged hate speeches. It had referred to the alleged hate speeches made by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena Chief Raj Thackeray and claimed that no FIR was registered against them in the state.
The PIL had said that in Andhra Pradesh, All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Akbaruddin Owaisi had allegedly made hate speeches and was arrested for them. But after being released on bail, he had again made similar speeches in Nanded, Maharashtra, it alleged.
Image: The PIL filed in the SC mentions the name of MNS chief Raj Thackeray