New Delhi: Despite many directives issued by the Supreme Court asking the Centre to respond to violence prompted by cow vigilante groups, the Union government has repeatedly failed to file its affidavit in the top court. The latest deadline the government missed was October 13.
In April 2017, a division bench of the Supreme Court headed by Justice Dipak Misra had issued notices to the Centre and six states seeking responses on public interest litigations (PIL) filed by the social activist associated with the Congress party, Tehseen Poonawala, Mohanbhai Hamir Bhai Bedva, who is alleged a victim of such violence, and Martin Macwan, a Gujarat-based human rights activist. The PILs sought a ban on the cow protections groups which have mushroomed across the country over the last three years.
While initially the Supreme Court served notices to Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and the Union government, to file their written responses to the PILs in form of affidavits, it extended the notice to all the 29 states in a subsequent hearing.
The top court, in September, also instructed the states and union territories to appoint dedicated nodal police officers in the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) to prevent the so-called gau rakshaks from “taking the law or becoming the law unto themselves.”
The PILs, which were filed last year, were heard by the court against the backdrop of a political uproar over the lynching of Pehlu Khan by gau rakshak dals in Alwar, Rajasthan in April, 2017.
In the hearings, the Centre has maintained that it was opposed to any group indulging in violence, but has also argued that violence prompted by cow vigilantism are law and order issues, the responsibility of which lies with the states.
The lawyer, Sanjay Hegde, standing at the court for the petitioners, told The Wire, “There have been several occasions in the last few months when the Supreme Court has asked the Centre to file its response. But the government has not paid any heed so far.”
“The Centre is reluctant to commit itself, in any manner whatsoever, in writing. Every time the Supreme Court has issued a deadline, it has chosen not to respond. Orally, however, it has been arguing that it is a law and order issue for the state to handle. It is clearly trying to pass on the the burden to the states.”
He said while the court has been asking the Centre orally to file its response and has extended the deadlines on each hearing, it hasn’t, until now, passed strictures for not meeting the deadlines.
The petitioners seeking a ban of cow protection groups have come down heavily on the repeated failures of the Centre to file its response, despite having been given multiple extensions since April by the court. They view the government’s reluctance to repond to PILs as its deliberate ploy to shun its accountability on the much-debated issue.
“While a few states have responded to the court’s directives, the BJP-ruled states have particularly shown unwillingness to respond to the Supreme Court,” Poonawala told The Wire. Poonwala had filed the first petition after investigating agencies found no evidence to prove that Mohammadd Akhlaq, who was lynched in 2015 at his house in Dadri on the suspicion of storing beef, had actually slaughtered cow.
He further said, “Karnataka was the first state to respond. Jharkhand has now responded but has said the incidents of violence related to cow vigilantism are mere aberrations. The other states will follow but I fail to understand why the Centre has not responded yet.”
“Tushar Mehta, the additional solicitor-general, who is representing Maharashtra and Gujarat in the case has said that he cannot speak for the Centre as he was only concerned with the two states. This shows the seriousness on the government, which has permitted him to fight Jay Amit Shah’s case, a private citizen’s matter, but has kept him away from a public concern as big as this. Even as the Centre is delaying its response, many lynchings in the name of cow protection have taken place,” he added.
The next hearing on the matter is on October 31.