TT, New Delhi, April 7: The Supreme Court today issued notices to the Centre and six states on a six-month-old plea to rein in cow vigilantes, after the seven governments had ignored an oral directive passed in October to file their responses.
The court sought the replies within three weeks but desisted from making any observations on the recent Alwar lynching, which the petitioners' counsel mentioned in the courtroom today.
Five men were assaulted by cow vigilantes while transporting legally bought cows in Alwar, Rajasthan, on Saturday and one of them, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, died of his injuries on Monday.
Last October, the court had orally asked the Centre, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra to file responses to the public interest petition, moved by Maharashtra-based social activist and Congress sympathiser Tehseen Poonawala and his brother Shehzad. It did not, however, issue formal notices or set a deadline at the time.
Today, senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, representing the petitioners, said: "The states should be asked to file their replies, particularly Rajasthan, due to the recent (Alwar) incident."
As the bench stayed silent, Hegde repeated his request. He did not, however, cite the specifics of the incident.
Solicitor-general Ranjit Kumar apologised to the court for not filing a response on the Centre's behalf and sought two weeks to do so.
The bench of Justices Dipak Misra and A.M. Khanwilkar then issued the formal notices and fixed the next hearing for May 3.
The petitioners have cited several atrocities committed in the name of cow protection, such as the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaque near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, in September 2015 following unsubstantiated rumours that he had slaughtered a cow and stored its meat.
They have also highlighted how cow vigilantes in Una, Gujarat, flogged four Dalits who skinned dead cows for a living last July. They have accused self-appointed gau rakshaks (cow protectors) of spreading terror among Dalits and minorities.
According to the petitioners, these vigilantes enjoy protection from some of the state governments. Among the directions the petition seeks from the court are:
• A direction to the states to take immediate and necessary action against cow vigilante groups;
• A direction to remove all the violent content these groups have uploaded on social media sites;
• A declaration of certain state cow-slaughter laws as unconstitutional. The petition says that some legal provisions in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Karnataka provide a degree of immunity to lawless cow vigilante squads.
Rights panel scan
The National Human Rights Commission has sought an explanation from the Centre and Rajasthan on dairy farmer Pehlu Khan's lynching.
It has also sought reports on the action taken against the accused and the measures adopted to prevent recurrence of such violence by cow vigilantes.
The commission, which has taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of the incident, has given the Rajasthan chief secretary and Union home secretary four weeks to file their replies.