The Supreme Court on Thursday directed the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to obtain from eight States information about the registration of FIRs, status of investigation, arrests and chargesheets filed in incidents petitioners allege to be attacks targeting the Christian community and institutions.
The eight States in question are Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
These States have to verify the action taken by their law enforcement agencies on the incidents of "criminal wrongdoings" which happened in 2021, as alleged in the petitions filed by Rev. Dr. Peter Machado of National Solidarity Forum, Rev. Vijayesh Lal of Evangelical Fellowship of India and others. The States have to submit their verification reports to the Ministry, which would in turn file an affidavit in the Supreme Court.
Tehseen Poonawalla case
A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud said the verification exercise was necessary for the court to determine whether the directions issued by the apex court in a host of judgments, notably in the Tehseen Poonawalla case, were being followed by the States. These judgments had made the State machinery accountable for preventing or taking immediate criminal action against perpetrators of communal violence, including lynchings.
In this case, the Bench clarified that it merely wanted the allegations in the petitions to be verified and it had "not formed any opinion on the veracity of the allegations".
The court directed the petitioners, represented by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, to share the details of each of the alleged incidents mentioned in the petitions with the office of the Solicitor General of India in four weeks.
The Centre, through the Home Ministry, has to submit its affidavit two months thereafter.
A preliminary affidavit filed in the court by the Centre had earlier dismissed the allegations in the petitions, saying they were based on "falsehood" and "selective self-serving documents".
Even family feuds and private land disputes are being shown as communal targeting, the Ministry had countered.
"Majority of the incidents alleged as Christian persecution in these reports were either false or wrongfully projected. In some cases, incidents of purely criminal nature and arising out of personal issues, have been categorised as violence targeting Christians," the government affidavit had maintained.
The MHA had said several incidents were "not necessarily related to incidents on violence targeting Christians".
"Incidents of minor disputes, where no religious/communal angle existed, had also been published in the self-serving reports as instances of violence against Christians," the MHA had said.
The affidavit contended that "preliminary factual check and inputs received" reveal that even action taken by local administrations against illegal constructions were projected as instances of religious targeting of places.
The MHA had objected to reports that the police were negligent or biased or complicit with vigilante groups, leading to an atmosphere of intolerance.
"On the contrary, a preliminary factual check and the inputs received reveal that the police had taken prompt action in numerous cases and conducted necessary investigation as per rules," the Ministry defended.
On August 5, the apex court had asked the Centre to find out whether the States were following its 2018 judgment which placed the onus on the police to prevent communal violence and lynchings.
Mr. Gonsalves, for the petitioners, had submitted that there were around 505 attacks on the religious community in the past several months alone.