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The Supreme Court on Monday issued a slew of directions to contain and prevent the incidents of mob violence against cultural programs across the country.
In what was Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra’s last judgment before he retired from the post, the Court held that persons responsible for initiating mob violence against cultural programs or works of art will be made to compensate the victims for any loss of life or property.
The three-judge Bench of CJI Dipak Misra, Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice DY Chandrachud passed this judgment in a PIL filed by Kodungallur Film Society.
The petition was filed in the wake of the unprecedented mob violence that broke out in various parts of the country against the release of the film ‘Padmaavat’. The PIL sought framing of guidelines to prevent acts of violence carried out by fringe groups in the name of protest.
The Court, in this judgment, issued guidelines in addition to those laid down for Nodal Officers in the Tehseen Poonawala case, which was in relation to mob lynching and violence, particularly cow vigilantism cases.
The principal relief sought in this PIL was for strict implementation of the guidelines laid down by the Supreme Court in In Re: Destruction of Public and Private Properties v. State of Andhra Pradesh & Ors, which pertained to large-scale destruction of public and private properties in the name of protests and demonstrations.
The judgment highlights the need for the State machinery to step forward in ensuring that acts of violence committed by private entities do not go unchecked or enjoy impunity. The judgment authored by Justice Khanwilkar reads,
“In addition to being patently illegal and unlawful, such acts of violence highlight a deeper malaise, one of intolerance towards others‘ views which then results in attempts to suppress alternate viewpoints, artistic integrity and the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India. Indeed, the people who perpetrate such actions, especially against private parties, do so without fear of consequence and reprisal, probably believing that private parties do not have the wherewithal to hold them accountable for such actions.”
The Court further added that mob violence goes against the established core legal principles and that it is the duty of the State to protect its citizenry against such acts.
“Nobody has the right to become a self-appointed guardian of the law and forcibly administer his or her own interpretation of the law on others, especially not with violent means. Mob violence runs against the very core of our established legal principles since it signals chaos and lawlessness and the State has a duty to protect its citizens against the illegal and reprehensible acts of such groups.”
To ensure this, the Court has stated that while the guidelines laid down in the judgment of In Re: Destruction of Public and Private Properties comprehensively deal with the issue of large-scale violence, this judgment would lay down additional guidelines.
Compensation and Liability of person causing violence
One of the most significant guidelines laid down in this judgment makes the person responsible for causing any loss to life or property liable to compensate the victim of the offence.
The Court has also stated that any person whose call for violence – either in his/her capacity as a spokesperson of a group or via social media – leads to loss of life or property, such a person will be subjected to appropriate action including action under Sections 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
When certain fringe groups stage protests leading to loss of any kind, the office bearers and officials of such groups must present themselves for questioning before the Police Station having jurisdiction within a period of 24 hours.
Responsibility of Police Officials
As regards the responsibility of the Police officials, the Apex Court laid down that the concerned police officials must register FIRs, complete their investigation and submit a report within the statutory period.
The status reports of investigations and trials of such offences are required to be uploaded on the official website of the concerned State Police and are required to be updated from time to time.
Structural and Preventive Measures
The Apex Court has also taken note of the rising number of such instances and issued directions to prevent and minimize the occurrence of such incidents.
The Nodal Officers are entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining a list of cultural establishments like theatres, performance venues, art galleries et al, and highlighting vulnerable venues and those that have faced attacks in the last five years. This list will also be updated at regular intervals.
Another significant direction laid down by the Apex Court in this regard is the presumption of intention of a person to commit violence when he or she is found to be carrying weapons, whether licensed or otherwise, during participating in such protests. Such a person will have to be proceeded against accordingly.
States are directed to set up Rapid Response Teams which will be trained to quickly mobilize in times of such mob violence and can be stationed near vulnerable establishments, the Court said.
In addition to the Rapid Response Team, special helpline numbers have to be set up to deal with such instances and the State Police is directed to create and maintain a cyber information portal on its website.
Minimizing Impending Mob Violence
The Court has entrusted Nodal Officers with certain specific responsibilities like coordination with emergency services, use of non-lethal crowd-control devices like water cannons and tear-gas, arrest of miscreants done in “the right earnest”, imposition of reasonable restrictions on social media or other communication platforms, and coordinated efforts to spread messages to restore peace and curb rumour mongering.
The judgment states that these recommendations made by the Court must be implemented by the Central and State governments within a period of eight weeks.