It must be stated right at the outset that in a landmark judgment with far reaching consequences, the Supreme Court 3 Judge Bench in Tehseen S Poonawalla v Union of India and others in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 754 of 2016 dated July 17, 2018 comprising of CJI Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Dr DY Chandrachud recommended that the Parliament may create a special law against lynching, asserting that “fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilized society”. We all have seen that in the last few years there has been a sharp hike in the incidents of mob lynching based on rumours and speculations which many times are completely baseless! Those who indulge in mob lynching cannot be allowed to get away under the garb of “mob getting angry” over cow killing or any other cause and must be made to pay the price for their dastardly acts by ensuring that they are either hanged or made to spend their whole life behind bars!
As it turned out, the Bench right at the very beginning in its landmark order made its intentions clear on citizens taking law in their own hands by holding clearly and categorically that, “Law enacted for the benefit of the society by conferring rights on the citizens and to regulate social behaviour in many a sphere, is required to be implemented by the law enforcing agencies and the citizens are duty bound to follow the law treating it as sacred. Law has to be regarded as the foundation of a civilized society. The primary goal of law is to have an orderly society where the citizenry dreams for change and progress is realized and the individual aspiration finds space for expression of his/her potential. In such an atmosphere while every citizen is entitled to enjoy the rights and interest bestowed under the constitutional and statutory law, he is also obligated to remain obeisant to the command of law. It has been stated in Krishnamoorthy v Sivakumar and others (2015) 3 SCC 467, “the law, the mightiest sovereign in a civilized country”. The majesty of law cannot be sullied simply because an individual or a group generate the attitude that they have been empowered by the principles set out in law to take its enforcement into their own hands and gradually become law unto themselves and punish the violator on their own assumption and in the manner in which they deem fit. They forget that the administration of law is conferred on the law enforcing agencies and no one is allowed to take law into his own hands on the fancy of his “shallow spirit of judgment”. Just as one is entitled to fight for his rights in law, the other is entitled to be treated as innocent till he is found guilty after a fair trial. No act of a citizen is to be adjudged by any kind of community under the guise of protectors of law. It is the seminal requirement of law that an accused is booked under law and is dealt with in accordance with the procedure without any obstruction so that substantive justice is done. No individual in his own capacity or as a part of a group, which within no time assumes the character of a mob, can take law into his/their hands and deal with a person treating him as guilty. That is not only contrary to the paradigm of established legal principles in our legal system but also inconceivable in a civilized society that respects the fundamental tenets of the rule of law. And, needless to say, such ideas and conceptions not only create a dent in the majesty of law but are also absolutely obnoxious.”
It would be pertinent to mention here that the petitioner who is a social activist has preferred this writ petition under Article 32 of the Constitution for commanding the respondent-State Nos. 3 to 8 which includes Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Rajasthan to take immediate and necessary action against the cow protection groups indulging in violence; and further to issue a writ or direction to remove the violent contents from the social media uploaded and hosted by the said groups. Mr Sanjay R Hegde who as learned senior counsel appeared for the petitioner in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 754 of 2016 submitted that no individual or vigilante group can engage himself/themselves in an activity of lynching solely on the basis of a perception that a crime has been committed. He also submits “That apart, the supremacy of law has to be recognized and if a law prescribes a punishment for a crime, it has the mechanism provided under the law to do so. The procedural and the substantial safeguards are required to be followed.” He urged with all the emphasis at his command that lynching or any kind of mob violence has to be curbed and crippled by the executive and no excuse can ever be tolerated. Stress is laid on prevention, remedial and punitive measures by him. In this regard, he has placed reliance on a recent judgment rendered in Shakti Vahini v Union of India & others 2018 (5) SCALE 51.
Going forward, it must also be mentioned here that Ms Indira Jaisingh who is learned senior counsel for the petitioner in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 732 of 2017 made her own submissions. She has referred to Martin Luther King Jr. wherein he had said that law may not be able to make a man love him, but it can keep the man from lynching him. She submits that there has been a constant increase in the number of incidents in recent years as a consequence of which citizens belonging to minority communities have become victims of targeted violence which mainly originate on suspicion and at times misinformation that the victims were involved in illegal cattle trade and such other activities. It must be added here that she also referred to certain specific incidents of lynching. It is additionally argued by her that the Central Government be directed to intervene in exercise of the power conferred under Articles 256 and 257 of the Constitution to issue directions to the State Governments. Her point is valid!
Moving ahead, she further urges that in the recent past, self-proclaimed and self-styled vigilantes have brazenly taken law into themselves and have targeted citizens belonging to certain communities and lower strata of the society which cannot be tolerated and it is the obligation of the Union and the States to take immediate action warranted in law to stop such activities. There can be no denying or disputing it! She has further submitted that there have been many an incident of lynching mostly by vigilante groups across the States of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and Delhi. It is her stringent stand that action is required to be taken against the perpetrators when approached by the family members of the victim.
Apart from this, she has canvassed that it is the foremost duty of the Central and the State Governments to ensure that the members of the minorities are not targeted by mob violence and vigilante groups. She also contends that if the illegal actions of these lynchers are not totally curbed, there would be absolute chaos where any private individual can take law into his own hands for the enforcement of criminal law in accordance with his own judgment. What wrong has she said? Nothing wrong!
Now coming to what the Supreme Court ruled after listening to submissions made from both sides. We shall discuss one by one on what all the Apex Court ruled. They are as follows: –
On the State’s duty to maintain law and order
At the outset itself, the Court asserted that it is the State’s duty to prevent any sort of mob vigilantism, observing, “The States have the onerous duty to see that no individual or any core group take law into their own hands. Every citizen has the right to intimate the police about the infraction of law. There cannot be an investigation, trial and punishment of any nature on the streets. The process of adjudication takes place within the hallowed precincts of the courts of justice and not on the streets. No one has the right to become the guardian of law claiming that he has to protect the law by any means. It is the duty of the States, as has been stated in Nandini Sundar and others v State of Chhattisgarh  7 SCC 547, to strive, incessantly and consistently, to promote fraternity amongst all citizens so that the dignity of every citizen is protected, nourished and promoted. That apart, it is the responsibility of the States to prevent untoward incidents and to prevent crime.”
Furthermore, in Mohd. Haroon and others v. Union of India and another  5 SCC 252, it has been held that it is the responsibility of the State Administration in association with the intelligence agencies of both the State and the Centre to prevent recurrence of communal violence in any part of the State. If any officer responsible for maintaining law and order is found negligent, he/she should be brought within the ambit of law. No guilty officer should be spared.
Also, the Apex Court observed that, “There can be no shadow of doubt that the authorities which are 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, does 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. No one has the authority to enter into the said field and harbour the feeling that he is the law and the punisher himself. A country where the rule of law prevails, does not allow any such thought. It, in fact, commands for ostracisation of such thoughts with immediacy.”
On growing mob vigilantism
Truth be told, the Court made some stern and damning observations on the growing mob vigilantism and asserted that such extrajudicial attempts under the guise of protection of law would have to be nipped in the bud, “lest it would lead to rise of anarchy and lawlessness which would plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic.” It held that, “Lynching is an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution itself. We may say without any fear of contradiction that lynching by unruly mobs and barbaric violence arising out of incitement and instigation cannot be allowed to become the order of the day. Such vigilantism, be it for whatever purpose or borne out of whatever cause, has the effect of undermining the legal and formal institutions of the State and altering the constitutional order.” It, therefore, highlighted the dire need for State intervention in protecting 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”.
Reference to American authorities
Be it noted, the Court also referred to rulings by the American Courts which have dealt with lynching, which at one point of time, was rampant in the American society. The Court noted that the American Courts had deplored this menace and had dealt with it with iron hands so as to eradicate the same. It then observed, “Thus, the decisions of this Court, as well as the authorities from other jurisdictions, clearly show that every citizen has to abide by the law and the law never confers the power on a citizen to become the law unto himself or take law into his hands. The idea is absolutely despicable, the thought is utterly detestable and the action is obnoxious and completely hellish. It is nauseatingly perverse.”
On rising intolerance
Truly speaking, the Bench highlighted the importance of plurality and tolerance as the building blocks of a truly free and democratic society and the need for preserving the same. It said in no uncertain terms that, “It must be emphatically stated that a dynamic contemporary constitutional democracy imbibes the essential features of accommodating pluralism in thought and approach so as to preserve cohesiveness and unity. Intolerance arising out of a dogmatic mindset sows the seeds of upheaval and has a chilling effect on freedom of thought and expression. Hence, tolerance has to be fostered and practiced and not allowed to be diluted in any manner.”
Having said this, it must now be brought out here that the Apex Court then issued some guidelines to be followed. It also listed the matter on 20 August for further hearing. Those guidelines are as follows: –
A. Preventive Measures
(i) The State Governments shall designate a senior police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police, as Nodal Officer in each district. Such Nodal Officer shall be assisted by one of the DSP rank officers in the district for taking measure 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.
(ii) The State Governments 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.
(iii) 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.
(iv) The Nodal Officer, so designated, shall hold regular meetings (at least once a month) with the local intelligence units in the district along with all Station House Officers of the district so as to identify the existence of the tendencies of vigilantism, mob violence or lynching in the district and take steps to prohibit instances of dissemination of offensive material through different social media platforms or any other means for inciting such tendencies. The Nodal Officer shall also make efforts to eradicate hostile environment against any community or caste which is targeted in such incidents.
(v) 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 any inter-district co-ordination issues for devising a strategy to tackle lynching and mob violence related issues at the State level.
(vi) It shall be the duty of every police officer to cause a mob to disperse, by exercising his power under Section 129 of CrPC, which , in his opinion, has a tendency to cause violence or wreak the havoc of lynching in the disguise of vigilantism or otherwise.
(vii) 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 stakeholders 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.
(viii) 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.
(ix) The Central 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.
(x) 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.
(xi) 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.
(xii) The Central Government shall also issue appropriate directions/advisories to the State Governments which would reflect the gravity and seriousness of the situation and the measures to be taken.
B. Remedial measures
(i) Despite the preventive measures taken by the State Police, it comes to the notice of the local police that an incident of lynching or mob violence has taken place, the jurisdictional police station shall immediately cause to lodge an FIR, without any undue delay, under the relevant provisions of IPC and/or other provisions of law.
(ii) It shall be the duty of the Station House Officer, in whose police station such FIR is registered, to forthwith intimate the Nodal Officer in the district who shall, in turn, ensure that there is no further harassment of the family members of the victim(s).
(iii) Investigation in such offences shall be personally monitored by the Nodal Officer who shall be duty bound to ensure that the investigation is carried out effectively and the charge-sheet in such cases is filed within the statutory period from the date of registration of the FIR or arrest of the accused, as the case may be.
(iv) The State Governments shall prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme in the light of the provisions of Section 357A of CrPC within one month from the date of this judgment. In the said scheme for computation of compensation, the State Governments shall give due regard to the nature of bodily injury, psychological injury and loss of earnings including loss of opportunities of employment and education and expenses incurred on account of legal and medical expenses. The said compensation scheme must also have a provision for interim relief to be paid to the victim(s) or to the next of kin of the deceased within a period of thirty days of the incident of mob violence/lynching.
(v) The cases of lynching and mob violence shall be specifically tried by designated court/Fast Track Courts earmarked for that purpose in each district. Such courts shall hold trial of the case on a day to day basis. The trial shall preferably be concluded within six months from the date of taking cognizance. We may hasten to add that this direction shall apply to even pending cases. The District Judge shall assign those cases as far as possible to one jurisdictional court so as to ensure expeditious disposal thereof. It shall be the duty of the State Governments and the Nodal Officers, in particular, to see that the prosecuting agency strictly carries out its role in appropriate furtherance of the trial.
(vi) To set a stern example in cases of mob violence and lynching, upon conviction of the accused person(s), the trial court must ordinarily award maximum sentence as provided for various offences under the provisions of the IPC.
(vii) The courts trying the cases of mob violence and lynching may, on an application by a witness or by the public prosecutor in relation to such witness or on its own motion, take such measures, as it deems fit, for protection and for concealing the identity and address of the witness.
(viii) The victim(s) or the next kin of the deceased in cases of mob violence and lynching shall be given timely notice of any court proceedings and he/she shall be entitled to be heard at the trial in respect of applications such as bail, discharge, release and parole filed by the accused persons. They shall also have the right to file written submissions on conviction, acquittal or sentencing.
(ix) The victim(s) or the next of kin of the deceased in cases of mob violence and lynching shall receive free legal aid if he or she so chooses and engage any advocate of his/her choice from amongst those enrolled in the legal aid panel under the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987.
C. Punitive measures
(i) Wherever it is found that a police officer or an officer of the district administration has failed to comply with the aforesaid directions in order to prevent and/or investigate and/or facilitate expeditious trial of any crime of mob violence and lynching, the same shall be considered as an act of deliberate negligence and/or misconduct for which appropriate action must be taken against him/her and not limited to departmental action under the service rules. The departmental action shall be taken to its logical conclusion preferably within six months by the authority of the first instance.
(ii) In terms of the ruling of this Court in Arumugam Servai v. State of Tamil Nadu (2011) 6 SCC 405, the States are directed to take disciplinary action against the concerned officials if it is found that (i) such official(s) did not prevent the incident, despite having prior knowledge of it, or (ii) where the incident has already occurred, such official(s) did not promptly apprehend and institute criminal proceedings against the culprits.
Simply put, the Bench directed that, “Apart from the directions we have given hereinbefore and what we have expressed, we think it appropriate to recommend to the legislature, that is, the Parliament, to create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same. We have said so as a special law in this field would instill a sense of fear amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities.” Very rightly said! Now it is up to Parliament to act and make lynching a separate offence as soon as possible as the Apex Court has directed.
Needless to say, it was made amply clear by the Bench that the measures that are directed to be taken have to be carried out within four weeks by the Central and the State Governments. The Bench also made it clear that, “Reports of compliance be filed within the said period before the Registry of this Court. We may emphatically note that it is axiomatic that it is the duty of the State to ensure that the machinery of law and order functions efficiently and effectively in maintaining peace so as to preserve our quintessentially secular ethos and pluralistic social fabric in a democratic set-up governed by rule of law. 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, since its concern, to quote Woodrow Wilson, “must ring with the voices of the people.” The exigencies of the situation require us to sound a clarion call for earnest action to strengthen our inclusive and all-embracing social order which would in turn, reaffirm the constitutional faith. We expect nothing more and nothing less.”
All said and done, Centre must without wasting any more time further take Parliament into confidence and enact a law by which strictest punishment is provided for those who indulge in lynching. It brooks no more delay! Even Supreme Court now has stepped in and so Centre cannot afford to duck this burning issue any longer! Centre must act!
No doubt, all parties must sink their petty political differences and join hands to enact a law against mob lynching so that it acts as an effective deterrent against this most reprehensible crime which is on the rise in our country since last few years! The minimum punishment should be nothing less than life term and the maximum punishment should be death penalty! Ever since Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in UP’s Dadri in 2015 for allegedly storing and consuming beef in his house and Pehlu Khan lynched in Alwar district of Rajasthan in April 2017, there have been many similar incidents time and again but now there must be an end to it which is possible only if the strictest punishment is meted out to those who indulge in such abhorrent acts of dastardly crime!
Sanjeev Sirohi, Advocate,
s/o Col BPS Sirohi,
A 82, Defence Enclave,
Meerut – 250001,