File hate speech cases even if no complaint, SC tells all states
The bench made it clear that any hesitation to act in accordance with its direction on registration of FIRs will be viewed as contempt of court.
Emphasising on the importance of preserving the secular character of the country, the Supreme Court on Friday directed police chiefs of all states and Union territories to file suo motu (on their own) cases against hate speeches made by people from any religion, and warned of contempt action if its direction is not complied with.
A bench of justices KM Joseph and BV Nagarathna noted that a similar direction passed in October 2022 for the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Delhi will now be extended to the entire country, keeping in view the concerns expressed over rising incidents of hate speeches reported from different regions.
“We are only concerned about the rule of law...Irrespective of the caste, community, religion of the maker of the speech, no one can be allowed to break the law...this is something which goes to the heart of our republic. It’s about dignity of people,” said the bench, expanding the ambit of its 2022 order to cover the whole country.
In its order on Friday, the court recorded that all the states and UTs shall “ensure that immediately as and when any speech or any action takes place which attracts offences such as Sections 153A, 153B and 295A and 505 of the IPC etc, suo moto action will be taken to register cases even if no complaint is forthcoming and proceed against the offenders in accordance with law.”
It ordered the police chiefs of states and UTs to issue pertinent directions to their subordinates so that appropriate action in law will be taken “at the earliest”.
Borrowing from its October 2022 order, the bench made it clear that any hesitation to act in accordance with its direction on registration of FIRs will be viewed as contempt of court and appropriate action will be taken against the erring officers.
“We further make it clear that such action will be taken irrespective of the religion that the maker of the speech or the person who commit such act belongs to, so that the secular character of Bharat as is envisaged by the Preamble, is preserved and protected,” underlined the bench in its order.
The bench was hearing a bundle of pleas relating to incidents of hate speeches when it observed that it is an “offence affecting the fabric of the nation” and that the court wants criminal prosecution of all those involved in it irrespective of their religion.
Solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Union government, pointed out that the Centre shares the court’s concerns but there is already a process envisaged for the registration of FIRs and it would become unmanageable for the top court to handle applications from across the country complaining against hate speeches.
“We only had public good in mind when we passed the order for suo motu action against hate speeches... so that it should not go out of hands... both of us are apolitical. We don’t care about party A or party B. We are only on the Constitution, on the rule of law,” observed the bench, as some of the lawyers pointed out that while the complaints before the top court were made against states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra (where BJP is a part of the ruling dispensation), some other states such as West Bengal were being deliberately left out.
To this, the bench retorted: “Don’t bring (in) politics. If an attempt is made to bring in politics, we will not be a party to this. We have already said that action should be taken irrespective of religion or where it is happening. What else is required?”
At this point, advocate Nizam Pasha, who was representing petitioner-journalist Shaheen Abdullah, urged the court to make the October 2022 order applicable to all states and UTs. He also suggested that nodal officer be appointed in each state who should be responsible for actions on hate speeches. It was on Abdullah’s plea highlighting instances of hate speech against Muslims made at separate events in the Delhi, UP and Uttarakhand that the previous order was issued.
Accepting Pasha’s request, the bench extended its October 2022 order across all states and UTs and added that contempt action could be initiated against the errant police officials for breaching its directive.
At one point, the bench also cautioned the Maharashtra government against taking its orders lightly, reminding the state that it is yet to satisfy the court in response to Abdullah’s contempt plea citing 50 alleged hate speech rallies taken out in Maharashtra over the last four months.
Additional solicitor general SV Raju, appearing for the Maharashtra government, replied that the state has the highest respect for the bench and that it has already registered FIRs into the instances where elements of hate speeches were found.
“That is your duty,” replied the bench, fixing the matter on May 12 to peruse the state’s affidavit.
It also allowed the intervention application filed by advocate Vishnu Shankar Jain, highlighting instances of a call for beheading (sar tan se juda) by the members of a particular community. Jain appeared for Hindu Front for Justice.