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The Centre scored a victory of sorts by getting Home Ministry deleted from list of Respondents

Taking action against vigilantism and violence by cow protection groups or “’gau rakshaks” is a State subject and the Centre has no role to play, but it condemns all forms of vigilantism, the Union government told the Supreme Court on Friday.

Neither the Centre nor have States such as Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra filed any written response to the court’s repeated orders to them do so.

The government’s response was to a bunch of petitions led by Shehzeen Poonawalla seeking criminal action against cow vigilante groups whose recent rampages and lynchings saw rise in communal tensions in the country. The petition came up for hearing before the Supreme Court bench of Justices Dipak Misra, AM Khanwilkar and Mohan M Shantanagoudar on Friday (July 21).

Notice was issued to all state governments as well as the central government to respond. On Friday, Solicitor General (SG) Ranjit Kumar scored a victory of sorts by having the name of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) deleted from the petition as a party.

The SG appearing for the Union of India said that the central government cannot support the vigilantism on cow protection or any other kind of vigilantism. He also stated that it was purely a state subject to maintain law and order and hence the centre should not figure on the respondents’ list. As a result, the name of Respondent No. 2, the MHA, was deleted.

Senior advocate Santosh Hegde appeared for petitioner Tehseen S Poonawalla and stated that only Karnataka and Jharkhand had filed their replies.

The BJP-ruled Gujarat and Jharkhand informed the court that action has been taken against those involved in violence related to cow vigilantism.

The court directed other states to file their replies, asking what action had been taken by them against cow vigilantism. The apex court also told the Centre and states not to protect any kind of vigilantism, according to the news agency PTI. It also sought the assistance of the Centre and states for removing violent content related to cow vigilantism uploaded on social media.

The central government, asserting that it does not support any kind of vigilantism in any state, told the bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra, “No vigilante group has any place in the country as per the procedure of law.”

“Law and order is a state subject and Central government does not have any role into it. However, Union of India is of the view that no vigilante group has any space in the country as per procedures of law. It does not support any kind of vigilantism by private persons,” Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar said.

The bench recorded their submission and asked the Centre and other states to file their report regarding to the violent incidents in four weeks time and posted the matter for further hearing on September 6.

On April 7, the Supreme Court had formally issued a notice to the Centre and some of the states on a petition that sought a ban on cow protection vigilantes allegedly indulging in violence and committing atrocities against Dalits and minorities. Activist Tehseen S Poonawalla, in his plea, said violence committed by these ‘Gau Raksha’ groups have reached such proportions that even Prime Minister Narendra Modi had declared them as people who were “destroying the society”.

Attacks have continued even after Modi’s warning. Opposition parties and critics say that the BJP-led government at the Centre has done little to rein in the vigilante groups. Critics also accuse the Sangh Parivar of tacitly backing the vigilante groups.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat had earlier defended the cow-protection groups, saying these “law-abiding good people” perform an important role and they shouldn’t be confused with self-styled, motivated vigilantes.

Bhagwat said the government should distinguish between anti-social elements and “law-abiding citizens” who were upholding the law — seen as a reference to the fact that cow slaughter is banned in most states in India.

On Friday, RSS all-India Prachar Pramukh Manmohan Vaidya, Vaidya, replying to questions on incidents of lynching and violence linked to cow protection, said, “Sangh does not support any kind of violence. We have said it earlier and made it clear earlier too.”

Responding to the ideological bent colouring these attacks, he said, “Gau raksha is a different issue. The movement of gau raksha has been going on for hundreds of years. These incidents have been happening for years together. It is not that it has happened for the first time.”

The RSS leader said that the media is trying to connect it to a kind of ideology that it propounds, and that the opposition is trying to politicise the issue on that basis.

On Thursday in Rajya Sabha, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stressed on the government’s commitment to crack down on cow vigilantes. He also warned against a “selective morality” where hurting the sentiments of one side is deemed fair but not those of the other.

“All sides have condemned violence, the prime minister Narendra Modi has severely condemned it, in fact he has spoken about it thrice. There can be no justification of this violence. Our respect for cows cannot be the reason. Violence can never be a partisan issue. Right to equality and right to religious belief come with the obligation of mutual respect and tolerance…but Mr [Ghulam Nabi] Azad, ask yourself, have we twisted the definition of secularism?”, Jaitley was quoted as saying.

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