Nobody has the right to become a "self-appointed guardian" of law as mob violence runs against the very core of legal principles signalling chaos and lawlessness, the Supreme Court said Monday while making it clear that states have a duty to protect the citizens.
Deprecating the "disconcerting rise" in violent protests and demonstrations by private entities targeting exhibition of movies, social functions and sections of people on moral grounds, the court said that such acts highlighted deeper malaise of "intolerance" towards views of others and passed a slew of directions to curb such incidents.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said the court was conscious that crimes committed by groups of "self-appointed keepers of public morality" might be on account of different reasons, but the purpose was to exercise unlawful power of authority and create fear in the minds of public.
The verdict has come on a plea filed by Kodungallur Film Society which had highlighted the serious law and order problem that had arisen before the release of controversial movie 'Padmaavat'.
The bench, also comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, said that states must step in and perform their duty by taking measures to prevent such acts from occurring in the first place, and ensure that law-enforcement agencies exercise their power to bring the guilty to book and impose time-bound and adequate punishment for any lapses.
It said: "This court has time and time again underscored the supremacy of law and that one must not forget that administration of law can only be done by law-enforcing agencies recognised by law.
"Nobody has the right to become a self-appointed guardian of the law and forcibly administer his or her own interpretation of the law on others, especially not with violent means."
The bench further said, "Mob violence runs against the very core of our established legal principles since it signals chaos and lawlessness and the State has a duty to protect its citizens against the illegal and reprehensible acts of such groups".
It also noted the submissions of Attorney General K K Venugopal who had unequivocally said that violent protests leading to loss of life and damage to public and private properties were against the spirit of democracy and had told the court that an amendment in the law was in the offing to deal with such offences.
"In addition to being patently illegal and unlawful, such acts of violence highlight a deeper malaise, one of intolerance towards others' views which then results in attempts to suppress alternate view points, artistic integrity and the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution of India," the bench said.
It added: "Indeed, the people who perpetrate such actions, especially against private parties, do so without fear of consequence and reprisal, probably believing that private parties do not have the wherewithal to hold them accountable for such actions."
Regarding the amendment in the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, the bench said it would not comment on the efficacy of the proposed legislative changes and said it would keep the issue open to be decided in appropriate proceedings.
It said: "A comprehensive structure will have to be evolved in the respective states so that the issues of accountability and efficiency in curbing incidents of peaceful protests turning into mob violence, causing damage to property including investigation, remedial and punitive measures, are duly addressed".
The bench referred to its directions passed in cases related to cow vigilantism, mob violence and instances of honour killings and said that all those measures have to be followed by the states to ensure that no such incidents take place.
The verdict also took note of its 2009 judgement in which various directions were passed after taking cognisance of various incidents of large scale destruction of public and private properties in the name of "agitations, bandhs and hartals".
It said that additional responsibilities would be fastened upon the nodal officers who have been appointed in pursuance of the earlier verdict in the mob violence case.
Now, these nodal officers would also be responsible for creating and maintaining a list of cultural establishments, including theatres, cinema halls, music venues, performance halls and centres and art galleries within the district, and pin point such vulnerable establishments which have been attacked/damaged by mob over the past five years.
"The person/persons who has/have initiated, promoted, instigated or any way caused to occur any act of violence against cultural programmes or which results in loss of life or damage to public or private property either directly or indirectly, shall be made liable to compensate the victims of such violence," the bench said, adding that states would have to also set up helpline numbers in this regard.
It said that these measures have to implemented by the Centre and states governments expeditiously within a period of eight weeks.
The bench also said that when any act of violence results in damage to property, the concerned police officials should file FIRs and complete the investigation as far as possible within the statutory period and submit a report in that regard.
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