New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed all states to appoint a senior police officer for each district to serve as the nodal officer to ensure that cow vigilantism groups do not take law into their own hands.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra also directed the Centre to obtain instructions and apprise the court on steps being taken to prevent such attacks. The apex court also directed the chief secretaries of every state to file a status report giving details of the actions taken to prevent incidents of cow vigilantism.
The bench, also comprising Justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar, asked the Centre to respond to the submission that it (central government) could issue directions under Article 256 of the Constitution of India to all state governments on issues related to law and order.
The apex court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, seeking various reliefs, including a direction to all the governments to take preventive measures against cow vigilantism.
The directions of the Supreme Court to curb actions of self-styled cow vigilantes is an embarrassment for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because most of the incidents have taken place in states under its rule.
Even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent organisation of the BJP, have both condemned the actions of cow vigilantes, incidents have continued to occur. The most recent example of violence by cow vigilantes came from Bihar in August, just days after the BJP joined hands with Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), or JDU, to form the state government.
“Much before the court’s directions, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had condemned these violent actions in the name of cow protection and he had asked state governments to ensure that such incidents of violence do not take place. The home ministry has also issued repeated advisories to states to take steps to stops such violence. The directions of the court are similar to what the prime minister has been asking state governments," said BJP spokesperson G.V.L. Narsimha Rao.
“SC judgement is welcome but will PM Modi & Govt of India follow Raj Dharma to hold these band of goons accountable?" tweeted Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala. “We sincerely hope that the BJP central government will now see reason in upholding its duty to the Constitution and rule of law by coming out with an action plan to deal with this menace of their own making," he added.
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for one of the petitioners in the cow vigilantism case, told the Supreme Court that there was need for the centre and states to cooperate and coordinate in the issue so as to ensure that the vigilantism does not grow.
“The statement by the Centre in July saying that it is a state subject is not sufficient. They cannot wash their hands off the national issue and say that it is a law and order problem," Jaising said, adding that 66 instances of lynching resulting in death of women and minors had taken place since the statement was made.
“It is an extremely desirable and timely step by the Supreme Court because a lot of people, including minorities, were apprehensive of such violent acts by cow vigilantes," said Subrata Mukherjee, a Delhi-based political analyst and former political science professor of Delhi University. “People cannot be allowed to take law in their own hands in the name of religion because the consequences can be disastrous for the social fabric of the country. This direction by the Supreme Court will assure the people that there is someone who is asking the state to act accordingly."
The Supreme Court had intervened in the ongoing controversy over cow protection and sought responses from the centre and six states on the issue within three weeks in April. The six states are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Except for Congress-ruled Karnataka, the BJP is in power in these states. On 16 July, ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sent out a warning to cow vigilantes saying that strict action would be taken against those who were indulging in violence.
The matter will be heard next on 22 September.