New Delhi: Indicating that little progress has been made in the second term of the Narendra Modi government on the issue of curbing mob violence, the Ministry of Home Affairs recently reiterated the statement it gave in response to a query in the Lok Sabha in January this year in its response to an RTI query.
The MHA said the Group of Ministers (GoM) constituted by the Centre following the Supreme Court’s direction last year to take effective measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching has “since met” and is now “seized of” the report of the high level committee that was constituted to “formulate appropriate measures to address the situation”.
In fact, this reply is quite similar to the one furnished to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in January and therefore instead of conveying any progress in the matter, is more indicative of a status quo. Incidentally home minister Amit Shah had said in an interview in October that existing laws were suffificent to deal with lynching cases and that no special laws were needed.
HLC report presented to GoM
In response to a first appeal filed by Puducherry-based RTI activist Saurav Das under Section 19(1) of the RTI Act, 2015, the internal security division of the MHA on November 21 stated that the “Government of India constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) to deliberate upon the matter and make its recommendations in terms of order dated 23.07.2018. A High Level Committee (HLC) was also constituted vide the said order to assist the GoM, with the stipulation that the HLC would submit its report within four weeks.”
Further, it said that “the report was presented to the GoM which has since met and is seized of the matter.” As regards compliance of orders of Supreme Court, the order of the first appellate authority stated that “an affidavit in the matter was filed by this Ministry; information in this regard may be obtained from CPIO, CS Division, should the Appellant so desire.”
While in normal course this assertion of GoM meeting should have been seen as a progress, it is actually not.
SC intervened to curb lynching incidents
Until August this year, according to data compiled by journalism portal IndiaSpend, the country witnessed 133 cases of mob lynching since 2012, in which 340 people were targeted and 50 lost their lives. A large number of victims belonged to minority communities and socially backward classes. Also, nearly 35 such cases were reported within a year.
Terming such acts “horrendous acts of mobocracy” in July 2018, the Supreme Court asked parliament to pass a law for categorising lynching as a separate crime that deserved punishment. The apex court also held that it was the “responsibility of the government to protect the citizens”.
Panel formed to formulate measures to curb lynching
The same month, the government announced the setting up of a high level committee, chaired by the Union home secretary to check mob lynching. It also declared that a GoM headed by the Union home minister would consider its recommendations.
The government said the GoM will “formulate appropriate measures to address the situation” that the panel under home secretary was being set up to “deliberate in the matter and make recommendations”. The committee also comprised secretaries of department of justice, department of legal affairs, legislative department and social justice and empowerment as its members. It was directed to submit its recommendations to the GoM within four weeks.
It was also stated then that “The Group of Ministers will submit their recommendations to the Prime Minister.”
Little progress for over a year
There was little development in the matter thereafter. In January this year, Congress MP and former Union minister Shashi Tharoor asked in Lok Sabha whether the HLC chaired made recommendations to the GoM. He sought details thereof and whether each recommendation was accepted or rejected.
Tharoor also asked the MHA to provide him the reasons for such acceptance or rejection; details of the meetings held by the HLC and the GoM on the issue of mob lynching, and if the government drafted a Bill to curb mob lynching and vigilante groups.
But all that he got by way of an answer from the Ministry of State (Home) was that “Government constituted a Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the Union Home Minister to deliberate in the matter and make recommendations. The Committee under the Chairmanship of Union Home Secretary was constituted to assist and provide inputs to the Group of Ministers. The Group of Ministers has since met and is seized of the matter.” This bears a stark resemblance to the reply provided by the MHA to RTI activist Das.
New GoM yet to meet
In August this year, it was reported that the GoM was yet to meet after the formation of the new government. With the term of the first Narendra Modi government coming to an end, it had to be reconstituted. Being position-specific it was this headed by home minister Amit Shah, with external affairs minister S. Jaishankar, transport minister Nitin Gadkari, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and social justice and empowerment minister Thawar Chand Gehlot being the other members.
An official was also quoted by a national daily as saying that the government believed that “there are enough laws to deal with lynchings; it is a matter of enforcement. The police need to be trained to ensure conviction in these cases”. It was reported that while GoM met twice during the first term of the Modi regime, it had not done so after the new government was formed.
Reply in winter session
Meanwhile, in response to a question on mob lynching, minister of state for home Nityanand Rai in a written reply in the Lok Sabha on November 19 said in pursuance of the Supreme Court’s directions of July 2018, advisories were issued to the state governments and union territories on July 23, 2018 and September 25, 2018 for taking measures to curb incidents of mob lynching.
He said, “The Government has also sensitized the service providers to take steps to check the propagation of false news and rumours having potential to incite mob violence and lynching.” Also, the minister said “two bills on the subject passed by the State Legislatures of Manipur and Rajasthan and reserved by the Governor for consideration of the President, have been received” and were being examined.