The Supreme Court on Friday directed the Central government and six States to respond on a public interest litigation (PIL) plea to declare cow vigilantes â€œextortionistsâ€ and put an end to their atrocities against Dalits and minority communities.
A Bench led by Justice Dipak Misra issued notices to Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh and asked them, along with the Centre, to file their written responses to the PIL petition for initiating criminal action against the vigilante groups. The court scheduled the next hearing on May 3.
Counsel for the petitioner, entrepreneur and activist Tehseen S. Poonawalla, referred to the recent incident in Alwar, Rajasthan, where a man was lynched by a mob claiming to be cow protectors.
Solicitor-General Ranjit Kumar, appearing for the Centre, said responses would be filed in time.
The petition was filed shortly after investigating officials found there was no evidence of cow slaughter by Mohammed Akhlaq, who was beaten and lynched in 2015 on the suspicion of storing beef in his house at Dadri in Uttar Pradesh. The filing of the plea coincided with Prime Minister Narendra Modiâ€™s denouncement of these vigilantes as anti-social elements in the garb of â€˜gau rakshaksâ€™ for spreading violence against the downtrodden and destroying the delicate social fabric.
â€œThe Dalits who were attacked at Una or at East Godavari were only doing their traditional profession of skinning the already dead cow to provide leather to tanneries… the menace caused by the so-called cow protection groups is spreading fast to every nook and corner of the country and is creating disharmony among various communities and castes,â€ the plea filed through advocate Fuzail Ahmad Ayyubi contended.
It submitted that cow vigilante groups should be punished under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code as well as under Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The petition pointed to how some State governments even provided cow vigilantes with identity cards. It highlighted the Gujarat Animal Prevention Act, 1956 which deemed that all who acted to protect cows were public servants and no legal action shall be instituted against them.
The case was the same with the Maharashtra Animal Prevention Act, 1956 and the Karnataka Prevention of Cow Slaughter and Cattle Preservation Act. Further, the Gujarat Animal Prevention (Amendment) Rules, 2011 provided that authorised persons under these rules included those employed in gaushalas.
The petition accused these State governments of shirking their duty by remaining mute spectators while videos of atrocities committed by these groups were circulated on social media to become instrumental in spreading more tension and enmity.