Supreme Court Fast Tracks Hearing of Petition to Prevent Khap Endorsed Honour Crimes

The final decision on a PIL to address honour crimes ordered by Khap Panchayats will be made on November 8, the Supreme Court said.

A Supreme Court bench on Friday, decided to hear and “decide finally” on November 8, a six-year old PIL petition filed by an NGO to prevent and punish honour crimes and any gathering of Khap Panchayats. The bench comprised of justices Anil R.Dave and L. Nageswara Rao.

In the case (which has been pending since 2010), Shakti Vahini v Union of India and others, the Amici Curiae (AC) appointed by the court, Raju Ramachandran and Gaurav Agrawal, on Friday, sought the court’s intervention to control Khap Panchayats. The legislation mooted by the previous government to prevent, investigate and punish honour crimes, will take time to fructify, still.

The AC have made eight specific suggestions for consideration by the court in this regard.

The petition, filed by Shakti Vahini, seeks the court’s directions to the central and state governments to prevent and control honour crimes, by taking a number of measures.

The previous UPA government at the Centre had sought the states’ views on the draft Bill to control honour crimes, as was recommended by the law commission in August 2012. However, the UPA government went out of office before it could evolve a consensus on the Bill, although many states had agreed to it. A group of ministers set up by the then government to study an imperfect draft Bill on the subject, prepared by the law ministry in 2010, could not reach an agreement on the Bill.

The present government at the Centre, however, has not shown any interest in considering the law commission’s 2012 report and the draft Bill. However, this Bill too falls short of expectations of the activists campaigning against honour crimes and Khap Panchayats.

On Friday, the additional solicitor general, Pinky Anand, sought time to take a view on the suggestions mooted by the AC.

The first suggestion is that the state government should identify districts, sub-divisions and /or villages which have had instances of honour killing or Khap Panchayats assemblies in the past one year.

Their second suggestion is that the officer in-charge of police stations of the areas, so identified, should be issued directives by the superintendent of police (SP) at regular intervals to be extra cautious if any instance of inter-caste or inter-religious marriage comes to notice. If there is any information about a Khap Panchayat assembly, the local police station would be duty bound to immediately report it to the SP of the district.

Preventive steps

The AC have sought directions from the court to the officers in-charge of the police stations, SPs and deputy SPs to meet the “self-styled decision makers of the Khap Panchayats” and reason with them that such a gathering, if planned, should not be held as it would be illegal. If necessary, they should be threatened with an FIR, under Sections 141 read with 143 and 503 read with 506 of  the IPC.

The Supreme Court has also been asked to direct the district magistrates to take preventive steps under Section 144 CrPC, on the request of police officers, or suo moto, if they have information that such an illegal gathering of Khap Panchayat may cause reasonable apprehension of harm to the couple or their family.

If the police officer has reason to believe that such an assembly of Khap Panchayats will result in a cognisable offence, which cannot be otherwise prevented, he can arrest them under Section 151 CrPC, the AC have suggested.

If any Khap Panchayat passes any diktat to take action against a couple or family of an inter-caste or inter-religious marriage, the station house officer (SHO) or the SP would be duty-bound to immediately lodge an FIR under appropriate provisions of the IPC including Sections 141, and 143 and ensure effective investigation of such cases, the AC have proposed.

The SHO, SP and the DM should also be asked to ensure the safety of the couple in such marriages, by providing them a safe house, police protection etc. either by themselves, or by taking the help of any NGOs.

If there is any evidence to suggest that an offence has been committed as a result of the diktats of a Khap Panchayat, the investigating officer of the case would be duty-bound to charge sheet the members of the Khap Panchayat for conspiracy or abetment.

A proposal to take departmental action under service rules, against SHOs and SPs who fail to comply with the above directions, on the ground of negligence and misconduct, is also among the list of suggestions.

‘The range inspector general should be nominated by the state government to be the nodal officer who would ensure that action is taken against the SHO or SP and if there is any failure on their part to take preventive, remedial or punitive action against the members who gather or intend to gather under the aegis of a Khap Panchayat’, says the note submitted by the AC to the court.

Lastly, the AC have sought a clear direction from the court to the government to take a view on the desirability of implementation of the law commission’s report within a specified time frame.

Interestingly, Justice Dave, the senior judge on the bench, retires on November 18.  Therefore, the bench’s resolve to finally decide the case on November 8, lends some urgency to it.

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