In the recent times, a number of cases have come to light where one or more persons are tortured or beaten to death by a group of people who take matters of law and order into their own hands and decide to punish the alleged culprit themselves. For instance, a woman was, reportedly, beaten to death by a mob of 30 people in Ahmedabad on the basis of a suspicion that the woman was a child lifter. As per few newspaper reports, India has witnessed the killing of approximately 27 people in 15 cases of lynchings in the past one year.
The Supreme Court has recently passed an order in Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs. Union of India and others on 30.07.2018 (Order) and stated that in a civilized society, it is the fear of law that prevents crimes, and therefore, recommended the Parliament of India to create a special legislation against lynching. The Supreme Court further made some observations which are as follows:
That law would ensure an orderly society and that every citizen who is entitled to enjoy his rights and interest conferred upon by the Constitution of India 1950 and any other law in force, would also be obligated to follow the command of law.
Moreover, no person other than the law enforcement agencies is empowered to take matters related to enforcement of law and order in their own hands and punish the violator either in his own capacity or as a part of a group.
That every person is deemed innocent unless proved guilty after a fair trial, except as provided in any law. Therefore, the community or society cannot adjudge any person as an offender or criminal under the guise of protectors of law.
In the event such cases come to light, it is the duty of the law enforcement agencies to bring such violators of law before the law adjudicatory authorities.
Following are some of the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the said Order:
The State Governments to designate nodal officers in each district who would constitute a special task force to take measures to prevent incidents of mob lynching, procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to indulge in such activities and spread fake news and incite violence amongst public.
The State Governments to identify districts where mob lynching cases have been reported in the past so that they issue directives to nodal officers to be extra cautious and to increase police patrolling in such places.
To spread awareness amongst public that such cases of lynching would invite serious legal consequences.
To take steps to curb the spread of fake news and explosive messages capable of inciting mob violence.
The police to register first information report (FIR) against persons disseminating such fake news and explosive messages. Thereafter, to intimate the concerned nodal officer in order to ensure conduct of proper investigations.
The State Governments to prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme within one month from the date of this Order.
The trial in case of mob lynching incidents to be conducted in special fast track courts to be set up in each district.
Failure to comply with the aforesaid guidelines by an police officer or an officer of the district administration to prevent or obstruct the expeditious trial, it would be considered as an act of deliberate negligence and/or misconduct for which appropriate action would be taken.
The aforesaid measures to be carried out within four weeks by the Central and the State Governments and reports of compliance to be filed within the said period in the Supreme Court Registry.
The Supreme Court has further recommended the Parliament to create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same. Accordingly, the Ministry of Home Affairs held a discussion with various stakeholders and settled that the Ministry of Law may decide whether to create a new law or to amend the existing Indian Penal Code 1860 as amended thereof for the purpose of criminalizing mob lynching.
Senior Legal Associate
The Indian Lawyer