Hate Speech Problem Must End, Says SC While Hearing Plea Against Boycott Calls

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The top court observed that there has to be harmony and comity between communities. It asked the Centre to constitute a committee to look into the cases of hate speech.

Team Clarion

NEW DELHI — The Supreme Court on Friday permitted petitioners seeking action against certain calls made for the social and economic boycott of Muslims to approach the nodal police officers appointed in terms of the 2018 judgment dealing with mob violence crimes.

This is the latest in a series of attempts made by the top court to actively prevent hate speeches in the country.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and S.V.N. Bhatti was hearing a plea seeking action against calls made by several groups for marginalisation of Muslims following the recent Nuh and Gurugram communal violence in Haryana.

Expressing its anguish at the unabated problem of hate speech, the court orally said that the problem has to be solved and underscored the need for maintaining communal harmony. The court also mulled over the idea of directing the Director General of Police of the states to form committees to assess the content and veracity of hate speech complaints and issue appropriate directions to station house officers (SHO), LiveLaw reported.

It also granted time to the Centre to consider the suggestion and revert to the court with its stand. 

Senior advocate Kapil Sibal stressed the need to address the problem of hate speech and grant protection to people being targeted in extremists’ violent rhetoric, “You have to protect people. This kind of vitriol cannot go on!”

“Were such instances reported from only Nuh district, or other districts as well? Were such speeches delivered in multiple states,” Justice Khanna asked the senior counsel. 

“Multiple,” Sibal replied.

Addressing Additional Solicitor General of India K.M. Nataraj, who was representing the Delhi Police, Justice Khanna criticised the current state of affairs as ‘unacceptable’.

“Mr Nataraj, there has to be harmony and comity between communities. Everyone is responsible. All communities are responsible. What is to be done in such a case? This is not acceptable. We can ask the Director General of Police to constitute three or four people officers who will receive the material available to station house officers when they receive complaints [of hate speech] and this committee can then examine the material both with regard to the content as well as its authenticity.

Accordingly, this committee will issue appropriate directions to concerned police officers, who will then proceed further in accordance with the law,” the report cited the court as saying.

The bench expressed its willingness to pass orders in terms of this suggestion subject to the concurrence of the Government and the petitioners. 

“Let me first have the benefit of (seeing) what they have sought,” ASG Nataraj told the bench. 

“This problem has to be solved. No one can accept it,” Justice Khanna said.

“Definitely,” the law officer replied, before adding that the government in no way wished to condone hate speech ‘even for a minute’. However, he pointed out that there was a mechanism under the law to address the problem of hate speech.

“The law is settled. There is a mechanism. But somehow, in some places, it’s not working. Either they can avail the remedy available…”

“That would entail going to the court,” Justice Khanna protested. “Why not have an in-built mechanism to deal with these at the first instance? Of course, if the committee declines to register an FIR, the other side would be entitled to approach a magistrate or take recourse to any other remedy available to them. Again, if an FIR is wrongfully registered, a person will have the remedy available under the law.”

ASG Nataraj expressed concerns over people approaching the Supreme Court asking it to address such grievances, by saying, “Otherwise, what will happen is that they will keep on filing application after application.” 

“We do not want that. This court should not become the recourse,” Justice Khanna agreed. 

“That’s our concern,” the law officer said.

When Sibal was asked for his thoughts on the suggestion, the senior counsel expressed his doubts. “My problem is when someone, in the presence of the police, threatens shopkeepers to throw out Muslims in the next two days…This committee is not going to help.”

“What we are suggesting is, whatever has happened can be dealt with by this committee set up by the DGP – maybe for each district, or for two or more districts, depending upon the situation,” Justice Khanna explained before asking ASG Nataraj to ‘take instructions’ on this suggestion. 

Sibal voiced his apprehension that in the meantime, processions organised by fundamentalist outfits would continue unimpeded and its leaders would continue delivering hateful speeches inciting violence against one community.

“We have already issued directions with respect to CCTV camera footage and videos. These videos must be preserved,” Justice Khanna responded.

Jatinder Kumar Sethi, Deputy Advocate General of Uttarakhand, interjected at this moment to say that the state police has suo motu registered FIRs in the hate speech cases. Justice Khanna then said, “An FIR may have been registered in one case, but there are a number of cases. We have to find a solution to the problem.”

Sibal added: “The problem is not the registration of FIRs, but what progress is made. They do not arrest anybody, nor do they prosecute anybody. Nothing happens after FIRs are registered. Then, what is the point of saying an FIR has been registered?”

Justice Khanna suggested, “This committee, when there are such instances, must meet within specified timelines. Second, when the FIRs are registered, it must also periodically check up on the progress. This committee won’t conduct an investigation, and neither do we want to step in every case. But there must be a mechanism in place to ensure…One thing is, they must maintain proper records so that if there’s any laxity, it can be checked.” 

The Uttarakhand law officer then stated that there is a mechanism in place already to deal with hate speech cases and suggested that the petitioners can approach the nodal officers appointed in terms of the Tehseen Poonawalla judgment, in which the Supreme Court issued various directions in 2018 to prevent mob violence crimes.

Finally, the bench pronounced:

“…Relist on next Friday. In the meanwhile, it will be open to the applicants/petitioners to send copies of the material available with them, including electronic material, to the nodal officer appointed in terms of the decision in Tehseen Poonawalla It will be open to the respondents to file a status report.”

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