New Delhi: The Supreme Court has described as “unjustified” the “long adjournment” pronounced by the Delhi High Court in a hate speech case stemming from the riots that killed nearly 50 people in the national capital last week.
The observation came as a bench led by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde heard a plea filed by 10 survivors of the Delhi riots seeking FIRs against BJP leaders who allegedly gave hate speeches in the days and weeks preceding the violence.
Senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioners, informed the court that a Delhi High Court bench led by Chief Justice D.N. Patel had on 27 February adjourned a similar plea by activist Harsh Mander to 13 April.
“What was the reason of the adjournment?” the CJI asked. Gonsalves said it was because the central government wanted time to file a reply.
CJI Bobde replied that “adjournments for such long period are unjustified”.
“Their prayer to be heard in time is justified. We don’t want to interfere in the Delhi High Court order. The high court should hear this petition by Gonsalves this Friday,” he added, saying it should be disposed of expeditiously.
“In riots, violence cannot be curbed by courts. But just because there is no violence, it does not mean that courts can give such long adjournments,” the CJI added.
The CJI has also sought to know from Gonsalves if any political leader can be nominated by them to speak with BJP leaders and solve this dispute.
The names of these leaders will have to be given to the Delhi High Court Friday.
The pleas in Delhi High Court
Mander’s plea seeks FIRs against BJP leader Kapil Mishra, accused of making an inflammatory speech hours before the riots began, besides his BJP colleagues Anurag Thakur and Parvesh Kumar, who made incendiary remarks in the run-up to the 8 February Delhi polls.
It is being heard in the Delhi High Court alongside two impleadment pleas — pleas that allow one to join proceedings in a given case — seeking action against Mander, Bollywood actor Swara Bhasker, Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi, among others, for alleged hate speech.
On 27 February, the Delhi High Court issued notice to the central government and Delhi Police with regard to the pleas and gave them four weeks to reply (the remaining two weeks will allow petitioners time to reply).
Mander’s speech brought up
During Wednesday’s hearing, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta informed the CJI-led bench about a 16 December speech by Mander where he had allegedly asked a section of public to “take to the streets”.
“Mander had said we all are Indians by chance. We have seen the track record of Supreme Court. Ultimately, justice will be done on the streets,” Mehta said, reading a purported transcript of the speech.
Justice B.R. Gavai, who was also on the bench, then sought a copy of the transcript.
The top court also heard Mander’s counsel Karuna Nundy. It subsequently asked the government to file an affidavit placing the speech on record and directed Nundy to file a reply by Friday. Nundy kept saying that Mander was in the US and they should wait until he returned, but the CJI did not agree.
The court then said that the high court would Friday only hear the plea filed by the 10 survivors. Mander’s plea, it added, would be kept pending until his speech “against the SC is heard and decided upon”.
‘Situation may not aggravate’
The central government had claimed in the high court that the time wasn’t conducive to filing FIRs against leaders accused of hate speech. On Wednesday, CJI Bobde sought to know from Mehta if the situation was conducive at the moment.
“Situation might not aggravate. FIR is registered on both sides. Registration of FIR does not prejudice anyone’s rights,” said Bobde. Justice Surya Kant, the third member of the bench, added that the registration of FIRs “only helps police authorities”.
However, the CJI noted that the 1992-93 Mumbai riots had worsened after the arrest of religious leaders.
“Arresting a community leader during riots is not helpful every time. It might aggravate the riots. In Mumbai, when shakha pramukhs were arrested, the riots worsened. Mumbai riots were worse than the Delhi one,” said CJI.