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BARELY A week after a man was killed, allegedly by ‘gau rakshaks’ (cow protectors), on suspicion of transporting cows in Alwar, the Supreme Court Friday sought responses from the central government and six state governments, including Rajasthan, against cow vigilantism and on appropriate action against such groups.
A bench led by Justice Dipak Misra deemed it proper to seek a formal response from the governments after senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for a petitioner in a PIL, raised the issue of the alleged killing of Pehlu Khan by ‘gau rakshaks’ last week. Hegde contended that the issue required immediate attention since cow vigilantism seemed unchecked in various states, leading to violence and hooliganism. “The incidents have been on a rise and the problem is acute in some states. The recent incident in Rajasthan shows the gravity,” said the lawyer.
At this, the bench asked Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar whether formal notices had been issued on the PIL filed last year by petitioners Tehseen Poonawalla, Mohanbhai Bedva and Martin C Machwan. The S-G replied that although the court had asked the Centre and six state governments to appear in the matter, no formal notices were issued.
The bench then issued notices to the Centre and state governments of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Jharkhand. It sought their responses to the PIL within three weeks and agreed to list the matter for hearing on May 3, before the summer vacation starts in the court. Last Saturday evening, Khan, 55, and four others were attacked by gau rakshaks on National Highway 8 in Alwar on the suspicion of smuggling a cow for slaughter. Khan succumbed to injuries on Monday. Three persons were arrested on Wednesday for the assault.
The batch of PILs has sought directions to various state governments as well as the Centre “to take immediate and appropriate actions against the vigilantes, who in the garb of Gau Rakshak Dals (cow protection groups) had been spreading violence and committing atrocities against Dalits and minorities in the name of protection of cow and other bovine species.”
Adducing various news reports from across the country where people had been attacked by the gau rakshaks, the petitions pleaded that such vigilante groups ought to be banned in the interest of social harmony, public morality and law and order in the country, and for violating the fundamental rights of others.
They claimed that in most cases, police and other law enforcement agencies are either complicit in such illegal actions or have merely been mute spectators against such evil and hence, state governments must be made answerable in the top court. They also complained against various states having provisions in laws linked to prevention of cruelty to animals that provided a degree of immunity to gau rakshaks from prosecution under criminal law.