Plea on hate speech: SC permits petitioner to implead Election Commission as party

Published - May 13, 2022 07:27 pm IST - New Delhi

A view of Supreme Court of India. File

A view of Supreme Court of India. File | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Supreme Court Friday permitted a petitioner, who is seeking direction to the Centre to examine international laws and take effective and stringent steps to control hate speech and rumour-mongering in the country, to implead the Election Commission as a party in the matter.

The apex court, which posted the matter for hearing on May 19, granted liberty to the petitioner to serve a copy of the petition to the standing counsel for concerned respondents.

A bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and J.B. Pardiwala was hearing a plea, filed by lawyer and BJP leader Ashwini Upadhyay in his personal capacity, which has alternatively sought a direction to the Centre to take apposite steps to implement recommendations of the Law Commission Report-267 on hate speech.

Mr. Upadhyay requested the bench to issue notice to the Election Commission (EC) in the matter.

“How Election Commission is concerned with this issue,” the bench asked.

Mr. Upadhyay said hate speech frequently happens during the model code of conduct during the election period.

Also read: The Hindu Explains | How the model code of conduct evolved

The bench told the petitioner that he has not made EC a party in his plea.

He urged the bench to allow him to serve a copy of the petition on the EC.

“At the oral request made by the counsel for the petitioner, the petitioner is permitted to amend the cause title so as to implead the Election Commission of India as a party respondent,” the bench said.

At the outset, the bench observed that petitions raising the issue of hate speech and hate crime would come up for hearing on May 19 and the plea filed by Upadhyay would also be heard on that day.

“We are not on a particular incident. We are seeking implementation of Law Commission report 267….” the petitioner said.

The bench observed it would be relevant for the other matter also which would come up for hearing on May 19.

When the petitioner raised the issue of hate speech at the time of the election, the bench observed that the regime should be the same on hate speech irrespective of the election period.

"The petitioner is filing this writ petition as a PIL... seeking writ/order/direction to the Centre to examine the international laws relating to 'hate speech' and 'rumour-mongering' and take apposite effective stringent steps to control 'hate speech' and 'rumour-mongering' in order to secure rule of law, freedom of speech and expression and Right to Life, Liberty and Dignity of citizens," the plea has said.

It has urged that the government be asked to take appropriate steps to implement the recommendations of Law Commission Report-267 on hate speech.

"The injury to the citizens is extremely large because 'hate speech and rumour-mongering' has the potential of provoking individuals or society to commit acts of terrorism, genocides, ethnic cleansing, etc. Hate speech is considered outside the realm of protective discourse,” it said.

In 2012, around 50,000 citizens from northeastern states moved from their residences across India and rushed to their native places after the "circulation of false images of violent incidents that took place not in India but Myanmar several years ago", it said.

Referring to existing penal provisions on hate speech in the Indian Penal Code, the plea said that this is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race-ethnicity gender sexual orientation religious belief and it poses complex challenges to freedom of speech-expression.

"A difference of approach is discernible between the U.S. and other democracies. In the U.S., it is given constitutional protection; whereas under international human rights covenants and in other western democracies, such as Canada, Germany, and the U.K., it is regulated and subject to sanctions. In view of this, the petitioner is of the opinion that new provisions in IPC are required to be incorporated to address the issues elaborately...," it said.

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