New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Friday intervened in the ongoing controversy over cow protection and sought responses from the centre and six states on the issue within three weeks.
A three-judge bench headed by justice Dipak Misra was hearing three public interest litigation cases challenging certain laws that shield vigilante cow protection groups in the country.
The six states are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Except for Congress-ruled Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in these states.
The apex court’s intervention comes in the backdrop of a 1 April incident in Alwar, Rajasthan, in which a man transporting cows was allegedly lynched by a group of self-styled cow vigilantes.
The issue resonated in Rajya Sabha on Friday with several opposition members demanding action by the centre and state. The government assured the upper House that the state government will take action; Union home minister Rajnath Singh will issue a statement on the issue on Monday.
Three individuals—Martin Macwan, a Dalit rights activist, Mohanbhai Hamir Bhai Bedva, an alleged victim of such violence, and Tehseen Poonawalla, an activist associated with the Congress—moved the apex court last year.
“Animal protection laws such as the Maharashtra Animal Protection Act, 1956, prohibit any legal action against persons for actions done in good faith under the law," the petition had said.
Some states also grant the power of search-and-seize to officials under such laws. The petition also referred to a 2011 ruling of the apex court in which it had directed the government to disband vigilante groups.
In August last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hit out against self-styled cow protectors.
“I feel very angry because of the cow protection business; some people have opened shops in the name of cow protection. Some people indulge in anti-social activities at night and become gau rakshaks (protector of cows) during the day. State governments should act against such people," Modi said at an event in Delhi.
Following Modi’s appeal, the government issued an advisory asking state governments to ensure no such vigilante groups are allowed to take the law into their own hands “under any circumstances" in the guise of cow protection.
The BJP said governments run by the party would comply with the directive and send their responses. The Congress hailed the SC directive, saying it was much needed.
“Groups acting as cow vigilantes should be banned... In fact, no variety of vigilantes should be allowed. Rule of law should be supreme in a democracy. If Supreme Court gives a direction on the issue and bans such groups, it will be in the interest of the country," said Abhay Kumar Dubey, a New Delhi-based political analyst with the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
The case will be heard next on 3 May.