New Delhi, March 12:
The Supreme Court Wednesday asked the Law Commission to examine whether there could be a legal framework for taking stringent pre-emptory steps to curb hate or derogatory speeches by people’s representatives, political and religious leaders invoking casteist, regional and ethnic feelings.
Asking the law panel to examine the scope of curbing hate speeches, the bench of Justice B.S. Chauhan, Justice M.Y. Eqbal and Justice A.K. Sikri said statutory provisions and particularly penal law provide sufficient remedy to curb the menace of “hate speeches”.
But the “root of the problem is not the absence of laws but rather a lack of their effective execution”, the bench said.
“Therefore, the executive (government) as well as civil society has to perform their role in enforcing the already existing legal regime,” said Justice Chauhan.
He said the “effective regulation of hate speeches” was required as the authors of such speeches can be booked under the existing penal law and all law enforcing agencies must ensure that the existing law is not rendered a dead letter”.
Exhorting the government and the civil society to effectively intervene for enforcing the existing laws to curb hate speeches, the court said: “We should not entertain a petition calling for issuing certain directions which are incapable of enforcement/execution.”
However, the court said the “National Human Rights Commission would be well within its power if it decides to initiate suo motu proceedings against the alleged authors of hate speeches”.
The court’s order came on a plea by NGO Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan seeking stringent pre-emptory action by the central and state governments against those making inflammatory speeches invoking religious, caste, regional and ethnic passions.
Noting that the Law Commission has undertaken a study as to “whether the Election Commission should be conferred the power to de-recognise a political party disqualifying it or its members, if a party or its members commit the offences”, the court requested the commission to also examine the plea for curbing hate speeches.
The court also asked the commission “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 irrespective of whenever made”.
Declining to pass any order that could not be enforced, the court said, “if any action is taken by any person which is arbitrary, unreasonable or otherwise in contravention of any statutory provisions or penal law, the court can grant relief keeping in view the evidence before it and considering the statutory provisions involved”.
“However, the court should not pass any judicially unmanageable order which is incapable of enforcement”, the court said.