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SC orders crackdown on hate speech, mulls derecognising parties
Impelling law enforcement agencies to immediately book politicians for making hate speeches, the Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Law Commission to examine if a political party can be derecognised and its leader disqualified for such contentious remarks.
The court also said the National Human Rights Commission will be well within its power to initiate suo-motu proceedings against the author of a hate speech, after observing that religious freedom must be accompanied by responsibility. A bench led by Justice B S Chauhan asked the Law Commission to examine if the Election Commission should be conferred the power in law, enabling it to derecognise a political party and disqualify its members for hate speeches.
“We request the Law Commission to also examine the issues raised herein thoroughly and also to consider, if it deems proper, defining the expression “hate speech” and make recommendations to Parliament to strengthen the Election Commission to curb the menace of ‘hate speeches’ irrespective of whenever made,” said the bench which also comprised Justices M Y Eqbal and A K Sikri. The court said there was no definition of “hate speech” under any statute and also that the power of the EC to take actions for hate speeches was confined to the subsistence of the model code of conduct and not otherwise.
It also noticed that the EC did not have the power to de-register or derecognise a political party under the Representation of the People Act once it had been registered. Disposing of a PIL filed by NGO ‘Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan’, the bench observed that there were statutory provisions and particularly penal laws, providing for sufficient remedy to curb the menace of hate speeches, but they were not being properly implemented.
“The root of the problem is not the absence of laws but rather a lack of their effective execution. Therefore, the executive as well as civil society has to perform its role in enforcing the already existing legal regime. Effective regulation of hate speeches at all levels is required as the authors of such speeches can be booked under the existing penal law and all the law enforcing agencies must ensure that the existing law is not rendered a dead letter,” it said.
The court reminded all authorities that the safety of the state was the supreme law and hence the provisions to contain such utterances must be effectively implemented. The bench refrained from issuing directives straightaway, saying there were legal provisions already in place to curb hate speeches and the courts should not issue orders where there was no legal vacuum.
It added that hate speeches will be a matter of facts and hence any blanket order could turn out to be a “judicially unmanageable order which is incapable of enforcement”. The PIL had sought guidelines from the court, contending hate speeches destroyed the fabric of democracy. It had cited alleged hate speeches by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray and by All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen leader Akbaruddin Owaisi.