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'Mobocracy' cannot be allowed to overrun law: SC on vigilantism

Source: PTI
Last updated on: July 17, 2018 20:07 IST
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Photograph: Manvender Vashist/PTI Photo

'Horrendous acts of mobocracy' cannot be allowed to overrun the law of the land, the Supreme Court on Tuesday said and asked Parliament to consider enacting a new law to sternly deal with mob lynching and cow vigilantism, warning that such incidents may rise like a 'Typhon-like monster' across the country.

Asserting that there cannot be any investigation, trial or punishment out on the streets, the top court said it was the duty of the states to strive and promote fraternity amongst all citizens, as such mob violence was being instigated by intolerance and misinformed by circulation of fake news and false stories.


In a strongly worded 45-page verdict, it said 'rising intolerance and growing polarisation', which has led to the spate of such incidents, 'cannot be permitted to become the normal way of life', as the instances of lynching and mob violence were creeping threats which may gradually take the shape of a 'Typhon-like monster'.

In Greek mythology, Typhon is said to be a deadly creature or a monstrous serpentine giant.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also passed a slew of directions to the government to provide 'preventive, remedial and punitive measures' to deal with offences like mob violence and cow vigilantism.

"In times of chaos and anarchy, the State has to act positively and responsibly to safeguard and secure the constitutional promises to its citizens. The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land.

"Earnest action and concrete steps have to be taken to protect the citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become 'the new normal'. The State cannot turn a deaf ear to the growing rumblings of its people," the bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said.

The apex court said there was a need to enact a special law as it would instill a sense of fear for law amongst those who involve themselves in mob lynching.

The bench said it was the duty of state governments to ensure law and order in the society, besides ensuring that the rule of law prevailed.

"Mob vigilantism and mob violence have to be prevented by the governments by taking strict action and by the vigil society who ought to report such incidents to the state machinery and the police instead of taking the law into their own hands.

"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 court said.

It said that good governance and nation building required sustenance of law and order which is intricately linked to the preservation of the marrows of our social structure.

"In such a situation, the State has a sacrosanct duty to protect its citizens from unruly elements and perpetrators of orchestrated lynching and vigilantism with utmost sincerity and true commitment to address and curb such incidents which must reflect in its actions and schemes," the bench said.

It said that the authorities, conferred with the responsibility to maintain law and order in the states, have the principal obligation to see that vigilantism, be it cow vigilantism or any other vigilantism of any perception, do not take place.

"When any core group with some kind of idea take the law into their own hands, it ushers in anarchy, chaos, disorder and, eventually, there is an emergence of a violent society. Vigilantism cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be given room to take shape, for it is absolutely a perverse notion.

"We may note here that certain applications for intervention and written notes have been filed in this regard supporting the same on the basis that there is cattle smuggling and cruel treatment to animals. In this context, suffice it to say that it is the law enforcing agencies which have to survey, prevent and prosecute," the bench said.

The court noted that there has been an 'unfortunate litany' of growing 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'.

"In the obtaining situation, the need to preserve and maintain unity amongst the fellow citizens of our country, who represent different castes, creed and races, follow different religions and use multiple languages, ought to be discussed and accentuated."

The order said it was required that 'our country must sustain, exalt and celebrate the feeling of solidarity and harmony so that the spirit of oneness is entrenched in the collective character. Sans such harmony and understanding, we may unwittingly pave the path of disaster'.

The judgment was delivered on a batch of petitions including Mahatma Gandhi's grandson Tushar Gandhi and Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla seeking formulation of guidelines to curb incidents of mob violence and lynching in the country.

The court posted the matter for further hearing on August 20 and asked the Centre and the state governments to take steps to deal with such offences in pursuance of its directions and file a compliance report within four weeks.

Passing a slew of directions to provide 'preventive, remedial and punitive measures', the top court asked the state governments to designate a senior police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police, as nodal officer in each district.

It said such nodal officers should be assisted by a DSP rank officer in the district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching.

They shall constitute a Special Task Force so as 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 states shall forthwith identify Districts, Sub-Divisions and/or Villages where instances of lynching and mob violence have been reported in the recent past, say in the last five years. The process of identification should be done within a period of three weeks from the date of this judgment, as such time period is sufficient to get the task done in today's fast world of data collection.

"The Secretary, Home Department of the concerned States shall issue directives/ advisories to the Nodal Officers of the concerned districts for ensuring that the Officer In-charge of the Police Stations of the identified areas are extra cautious if any instance of mob violence within their jurisdiction comes to their notice," the 45-page verdict said.

The court said the nodal officer should hold regular meetings, at least once a month, with the local intelligence units in the district along with all station house officers to identify the existence of the tendencies of vigilantism and mob violence.

"The Director General of Police/the Secretary, Home Department of the concerned States shall take regular review meetings (at least once a quarter) with all the Nodal Officers and State Police Intelligence heads. The Nodal Officers shall bring to the notice of the DGP (director general of police) any inter-district co-ordination issues for devising a strategy to tackle lynching and mob violence related issues at the State level," the bench said.

The court said it was duty of every police officer to disperse a mob by exercising his power under Section 129 of Code of Criminal Procedure (Dispersal of Unlawful Assembly), which has a tendency to cause violence or wreak the havoc of lynching in the disguise of vigilantism.

"The Home Department of the Government of India must take initiative and work in coordination with the State Governments for sensitising the law enforcement agencies and by involving all the stake holders to identify the measures for prevention of mob violence and lynching against any caste or community and to implement the constitutional goal of social justice and the Rule of Law.

"The Director General of Police shall issue a circular to the Superintendents of Police with regard to police patrolling in the sensitive areas keeping in view the incidents of the past and the intelligence obtained by the office of the Director General. It singularly means that there should be seriousness in patrolling so that the anti-social elements involved in such crimes are discouraged and remain within the boundaries of law thus fearing to even think of taking the law into their own hands," the bench said.

The top court ruled that the Centre and the state governments should broadcast on radio and television and other media platforms including the official websites of the Home Department and Police of the States that lynching and mob violence of any kind shall invite serious consequence under the law.

"It shall be the duty of the Central Government as well as the State Governments to take steps to curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms which have a tendency to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.

"The police shall cause to register FIR under Section 153A of IPC and/or other relevant provisions of law against persons who disseminate irresponsible and explosive messages and videos having content which is likely to incite mob violence and lynching of any kind.

"The Centre shall also issue appropriate directions/advisories to the states which would reflect the gravity and seriousness of the situation and the measures to be taken," the bench said.

It also issued punitive measures and said if a police official or an officer of the district administration has failed to comply with these directions it shall be considered as an act of deliberate 'negligence and/or misconduct' for which appropriate action must be taken.

"The departmental action shall be taken to its logical conclusion preferably within six months by the authority of the first instance. In terms of the ruling of this Court... the States are directed to take disciplinary action against the concerned officials if it is found that such official did not prevent the incident, despite having prior knowledge of it, or he did not promptly apprehend and institute criminal proceedings against the culprits," it said.

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