SC tells states to appoint senior cops against cow vigilantism

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed all states to appoint a senior police officer for each district to serve as the nodal officer to ensure that cow vigilantism groups do not take the law into their own hands.

A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and also comprising Justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar further directed the Centre to obtain instructions and apprise the court of what steps were being taken by them to prevent such vigilantism.

Four states ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party – Haryana, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat – reportedly accepted the court's suggestion immediately and said they would appoint nodal officers of the rank of Superintendent of Police (SP) to check the problem. The BJP has been at the forefront of banning cow slaughter.

Dalits and Muslims have been at the receiving end of a rash of violence unleashed by lynch mobs, especially in the northern states, who call themselves protectors of cows or gau rakshaks.

Senior advocate Indira Jaisingh, appearing for one of the petitioners, told the court that there was a need for the Centre and states to cooperate and coordinate on the issue to ensure that vigilantism does not grow.

''The statement by the Centre in July saying that it is a state subject is not sufficient. They cannot wash their hands of the national issue and say that it is a law and order problem,'' Jaisingh said.

She cited a total of 66 instances of lynching which resulted in the death of women and minors after the Centre had made the statement.

Additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, appearing for three states - Rajasthan, Haryana and Maharashtra - said that First Information Reports (FIRs) must be filed in such cases and the law must be allowed to take its course.

The court was hearing three public interest litigation cases challenging certain laws that shield vigilante cow protection groups in the country.

Three individuals - Martin Macwan, a Dalit rights activist, Mohanbhai Hamir Bhai Bedva, an alleged victim of such violence, and Tehseen Poonawalla, an activist associated with the Congress - had moved the apex court on the issue last year.

The Centre on 21 July told the Supreme Court that cow vigilantism was a state subject and it did not have a role. ''Government does not support any kind of vigilantism in this manner,'' Ranjit Kumar, solicitor general, appearing for the Centre, had told the court.

The court had intervened in the ongoing controversy over cow protection and sought responses from the Centre and six states on the issue within three weeks in April.

The six states are Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Karnataka. Except for Congress-ruled Karnataka, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in power in other states.

The matter will be heard next on 22 September.