Court orders punitive measures to be implemented by Centre, States in four weeks

The Supreme Court on Tuesday condemned recent incidents of lynching and mob violence against Dalits and minority community members as "horrendous acts of mobocracy".

A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra held that it was the obligation of the State to protect citizens and ensure that the "pluralistic social fabric" of the country holds against mob violence.

The judgment authored by Chief Justice Misra for the Bench, also comprising Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, asked the Parliament to pass a law establishing lynching as a separate offence with punishment.

This special law, the court said, should be effective enough to instill a sense of fear in the perpetrators.

The court said the growing numbness of the ordinary Indian to the frequent incidents of lynchings happening right before his eyes in a society based on rule of law is shocking. The court said the government should see the judgment as a "clarion call" in a time of exigency and work towards strengthening the social order.

It is the obligation of the Centre and the States to ensure that "nobody takes the law into his hands nor become a law into himself", the Supreme Court ordered.

The court directed several preventive, remedial and punitive measures to deal with lynching and mob violence.

The court ordered the Centre and the States to implement the measures and file compliance reports within the next four weeks.

In the last hearing of the case, the Supreme Court had classified lynchings as sheer "mob violence". It had said compensation for victims should not be determined solely on the basis of their religion, caste, etc, but on the basis of the extent of injury caused as "anyone can be a victim" of such a crime.

Chief Justice Misra said States cannot give even the "remotest chance" to let lynchings happen.

The judgment came in a contempt petition filed by activist Tehseen Poonawalla saying that despite Supreme Court order to States to prevent lynchings and violence by cow vigilantes, the crimes continue with impunity.

"Despite your order to States to appoint nodal officers to prevent such incidents, there was a lynching and death just 60 km away from Delhi just recently," senior advocate Indira Jaising had submitted.

Ms. Jaising had argued that the incidents of lynchings go "beyond the description of law and order… these crimes have a pattern and a motive. For instance, all these instances happen on highways. This court had asked the States to patrol the highways".

Ms. Jaising said the lynchings were "targeted violence" against particular religion, caste, an thus, in violation of the constitutional guarantees under Article 15 of the Constitution. Article 15 protects from discrimination on the basis of religion, caste, sex, gender, etc.

Chief Justice had even asked the Centre to frame a scheme under Article 256 to give directions to States to prevent/control the instances and maintain law and order, but Additional Solicitor General P.S. Narasimha had disagreed, saying such a scheme was unnecessary.

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