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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Existing laws sufficient to curb hate speech: Supreme Court

Existing laws sufficient to curb hate speech: Supreme Court

Apex court directed Law Commission to draft guidelines to regarding hate speeches by politicians before elections

The SC said lack of enforcement is reason for less prosecution in hate speech cases. Photo: Mint Premium
The SC said lack of enforcement is reason for less prosecution in hate speech cases. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: India moved a step closer in its bid to clamp down on hate speeches by politicians during elections after the Supreme Court directed the Law Commission of India to draft guidelines to define such infractions.

According to the apex court, this would help in fine-tuning the norms that define hate speech and also remove ambiguity.

Giving its ruling, a three-judge bench led by justice B.S. Chauhan said the lack of prosecution for hate speeches was not because the existing laws did not possess sufficient provisions; instead, it was due to lack of enforcement.

“Effective regulation of hate speeches at all levels is required as the authors of such speeches can be booked under the existing penal law and all the law enforcing agencies must ensure that the existing law is not rendered a dead letter," the order stated.

The bench maintained that once the Law Commission approved the guidelines, the government should move legislation to empower the Election Commission of India to curb hate speeches.

The court’s directive was in response to an item of public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan, a Delhi-based non-governmental organization (NGO), in March last year.

The Law Commission is already undertaking a study on whether the Election Commission should be empowered to derecognize a political party if it engaged in hate speeches. The apex court felt it was, therefore, only appropriate that it was also vested with the task of clearly defining hate speeches.

“This is the first time that the Law Commission has been asked by the Supreme Court to examine and define what can be construed as hate speech. it is important to curb the increasing number of hate speeches in the country," said Ravi Chander Prakash, a lawyer representing Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan.

In the past, hate speeches have triggered religious conflicts.

In its PIL, the NGO has cited speeches made by several leaders, including Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray, Akbaruddin Owaisi of the All India Majlis-e Ittihad al-Muslimin and Praveen Togadia of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

While Thackeray made a speech last year allegedly threatening migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who migrate to economically well-off Maharashtra and its state capital Mumbai, Owaisi was detained for a short while and then set free after charges that he made statements offending India’s majority Hindu community. VHP leader Togadia allegedly made comments against the Muslim community.

“During election time, when the code of conduct is in place, the Election Commission has the powers to derecognize (political parties) if they make provocative speeches. The problem arises when the model code of conduct is not in place, and the Election Commission is not watching," said Prakash.

“We welcome the decision of the Supreme Court because it is important to understand what can be construed as hate speech. I must agree that hate speech and hate campaigns should be out of public life," said Prakash Javadekar, a BJP spokesperson.

“The Supreme Court knows what is best. It is good because it will ensure that no speeches flare up communal feelings. It is a good step taken by the Supreme Court," Shobha Oza, a national spokesperson for the Congress party, said.

“Politics has sunk so low that we need an outside agency—in this case the Supreme Court—to legislate on this... Having said that, India is a country where we follow procedures established by law. So I think the Supreme Court intervention will be of help and I welcome the Supreme Court stance though it is a guarded one. Politicians should have taken these steps themselves," said Bidyut Chakraborty, a professor of political science at the University of Delhi.

Anuja contributed to this story.

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Published: 12 Mar 2014, 12:33 PM IST
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