Will strengthen 2018 guidelines to curb hate crimes in country, says SC

The Supreme Court Friday said it will strengthen its 2018 guidelines for dealing with mob violence, hate speeches and lynching to ensure that culprits are dealt with equally, irrespective of their communities for their public utterances spreading bigotry.

In a significant verdict on a plea by activist Tehseen Poonawalla, the top court had on July 7, 2018 issued a slew of guidelines to curb hate crimes, and directed states and union territories to take preventive and remedial measures like appointment of nodal officers in each district to keep a tab on such activities.

The top court on Friday asked the Centre to collate details from states and UTs on compliance of its 2018 verdict in three weeks. The court asked the central government to inform it on the next date of hearing if the information is not received by then.

A bench of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and SVN Bhatti asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to file a status report giving details of appointment of nodal officers by the states in accordance with its 2018 verdict.

The bench said it has gone through the 2018 guidelines issued by the top court and, in its view, some more elements needed to be added.

“These guidelines of 2018 are fairly elaborate ones. We will be adding more to it and not subtract anything,” the bench said, as it pointed out that CCTV cameras, a deterrent factor in such crimes, can be installed at the vulnerable places.

The top court was hearing a batch of petitions seeking directions to curb hate speeches across states, including a plea for action against Hindu outfits calling for social and economic boycott of Muslims following the recent communal violence in Haryana’s Nuh and Gurugram close to Delhi.

The bench said it has other measures in mind like deployment of police personnel in plain clothes, who will record everything that is happening and the deputy commissioner of police shall submit these videos to the nodal officers.

“These nodal officers shall maintain a record and, if the complaints increase to say four to five times, irrespective of the community, the officer can place the report before a committee and subsequently direct the SHO to register the case in accordance with law.

“Sometimes, there are various versions and cross versions and audios and videos, everything needs to be taken into account,” the bench said, adding, “We want peace, harmony and brotherhood to prevail.”

Additional Solicitor General KM Nataraj, appearing for the Centre, said the biggest problem being encountered is that whenever a hate speech is made by anybody it is circulated on social media and reaches all.

Justice Khanna said some preventive measures can be adopted like whenever there are fake videos in circulation, the nodal officer can upload counter videos pointing to the fake ones.

The bench said this court cannot go into the genuineness or authenticity of the videos as many times wrong things are said, which should not have been said, and they have a cascading effect in the society.

It said, “Whenever there is likelihood of occurrence of any hate speech or crime, the police may inform the nodal officer and he would place it before a committee for suggesting remedial measures to be adopted.”

Sensitisation of police officers also needs to be done, which can be done at the academy level, the bench said, after a lawyer contended that the definition of hate speech is very complex and police officials are not aware of it.

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Advocate Nizam Pasha, appearing for petitioner Shaheen Abdullah, said while hearing his plea on October 21, 2022, the top court had directed police officials to take suo motu cognisance of hate speeches and register cases but the order is not being followed strictly.

The bench said the law on the subject law is clear and it is only the implementation and understanding of law, where the problem lies.

“We want effective practical steps to be taken to ensure that this court’s orders are followed. All 2018 directions are universal in nature and need to be complied with,” it said, adding the court is not going to dilute them.

Senior advocate Sanjay Parikh, appearing for Maharashtra chapter of NGO People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) said they have filed certain suggestions on dealing with hate crimes.

The bench asked Parikh to share them with Nataraj for consideration and also allowed states to file their suggestions, if any.

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