Need to separate 'grain from chaff', says Supreme Court, asks MHA to seek report on attacks on Christians from 8 states
Observing that it needs to separate "grain from the chaff", the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Ministry of Home Affairs to call for reports from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand on alleged attacks on members of the Christian community, rejecting remonstration by the Centre.
The top court said though it believes crime against an individual does not necessarily mean crime against society, but even if 10 per cent of the cases alleged in the PIL is true, then it needs to go to the bottom of the issue.
The Centre told the court it should not entertain the PIL based on "self-serving reports" as it could have wider ramifications.
"We need to separate grain from the chaff, even though we believe that an attack on individuals does not mean it is an attack on the community. We need to verify the claims of any such incident claimed in the public interest litigation (PIL)," a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Hima Kohli said.
Deprecating the court's stand, the Centre contended 162 of the cases mentioned in the PIL have been found to be fake on verification at the ground level.
Responding to the contention, the bench said, "This is a PIL and we are starting with a presumption that what is being claimed may be true.
"We can have a verification exercise and start with at least 4-5 states and ask the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to submit a report after collating the data on what action has been taken on such incidents of violence, status of FIRs and arrests made and whether any charge sheet has been filed in these cases or not."
The court directed the chief secretaries of all the eight states to ensure these details are submitted to the MHA.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta asserted majority of the alleged cases mentioned in the PIL were found to be false and based on "self-serving articles" published on a web portal upon verification.
He insisted the court should not entertain such PILs and pass orders that will open a Pandora's box and could have wider ramifications.
"First, there was an era when PILs were written on a postcard, then came an era when PILs were filed on the basis of newspaper reports and the courts had taken steps to curb that practice. Now, the third era is that PILs are being filed on the basis of a self-constituted fact-finding committee and reports which are being published on some web portals," he said.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioners, said in majority of the attacks against the members of the Christian community, there is a pattern, and are being done with the connivance of police authorities.
Mehta dubbed the claims as exaggerated, insisting government verification at the ground level found no such incidents with communal overtones had taken place as was being claimed by the petitioners.
Gonsalves argued that in most cases Christian priests have been booked by police and attackers allowed to go scot free.
"In the last one year, more than 700 cases of violence against the members of Christian community have been reported," he said.
Mehta said since none of the affected parties are before the court but the petitioners, who claim to represent their cause, are are present, the court should not entertain the plea and instead allow the victims to move the court or lodge a FIR in case of violence against them.
At this point, the bench noted, the victims may not have the means or could not be in a position to lodge a complaint against the perpetrators.
Mehta said if the petitioners can approach the Supreme Court, they surely can provide all possible legal assistance to the victims to help them lodge cases against the perpetrators.
The bench gave two months to the MHA to seek reports from the states.
It said the court is concerned about its earlier verdicts like the 2018 judgement in the Tehseen Poonawala case on appointment of nodal officers for reporting and monitoring such incidents and whether they are being complied with by states.
It added the court has not formed any opinion with regard to any submission made in the PIL.
The court's order came on a PIL filed by Rev. Dr. Peter Machado of National Solidarity Forum, Rev. Vijayesh Lal of Evangelical Fellowship of India, and others claiming violence against the members of the Christian community in the country.
The MHA, in its reply affidavit, said it is a recent trend that certain organisations start planting articles and preparing self-serving reports themselves or through their associates, which eventually become the basis of a writ petition/PIL.
The plea has claimed that in May this year alone, 57 cases of violence and attacks on Christian institutions and priests took place, and sought implementation of the guidelines issued by the apex court in the Tehseen Poonawala judgement under which nodal officers were to be appointed to take note of hate crimes and register FIRs.
In 2018, the apex court had come out with a slew of guidelines for the Centre and the states to tackle such crimes including
fast-tracked trials, victim compensation, deterrent punishment, and disciplinary action against lax law-enforcing officials.