SC Pulls up EC for ‘Sleeping’ on Hate Speech, Cites Yogi Adityanath and Mayawati Cases
Hearing a Public Interest Litigation against the increasing hate speech in poll rallies, the Supreme Court said that the poll panel was “duty-bound to take action and cannot sleep over such issues”.
File photo of BSP chief Mayawati and UP CM Yogi Adityanath.
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday expressed displeasure over the Election Commission not taking quick action against politicians for communal and hate speeches during the Lok Sabha campaigning and decided to examine the ambit of its power following submission that it was "toothless".
The top court, which got irked after not getting specific answers to its queries on the powers of the poll panel to deal with errant leaders spewing venom, even threatened to ensure the presence of the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) before it within half-an-hour.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi took upon the cases of alleged communal speeches of BSP supremo Mayawati and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and asked about the actions taken so far against them while deciding to examine the statutory powers of the poll panel to deal with the violation of the model code of conduct (MCC).
"So what about Mayawati. She was supposed to reply to you (poll panel) by April 12. She has not replied until today. What does the law permit you to do in such cases? Answer us," said the bench, also comprising Justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna.
The EC counsel said: "The power of the EC in this behalf is very limited. We can issue notice and seek reply but we cannot de-recognise a party or disqualify a candidate...we can only issue advisories and in case of a repeat offence, register a complaint."
Reacting sharply, the bench said, "So you are basically saying you are toothless and powerless against hate speeches."
It then said that besides sending a notice, an advisory and a criminal case can be filed only against such a leader.
The top court then decided to summon a representative of the EC at 10.30 AM on Tuesday to examine the contention that the poll panel has limited legal powers to deal with hate speeches of politicians during electioneering.
At the outset, the bench asked from the EC's counsel about the actions taken so far against the two top leaders of Uttar Pradesh.
"Tell us what are you doing... Tell us what actions you have taken," said the bench. The bench said: "It would like to examine whether the power of the EC was circumscribed to deal with the violations of the MCC by leaders through alleged hate speeches."
EC swung into action after the court's observations and "strongly condemned" the two leaders for their communal remarks and barred them from campaigning. While Adityanath was barred for 72 hours, Mayawati has been barred for 48 hours. The two have also been "censured" by the poll panel.
The apex court was hearing a PIL filed by an NRI Yoga teacher based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), seeking a direction to the EC to take "strict action" against political parties if their spokes-persons make remarks based on caste and religion in the media in the run-up to general elections.
During the hearing, the bench sought to know the actions taken by the poll panel till now against the political leaders and was miffed when the counsel for EC said that it would file an affidavit in response to the PIL of NRI Harpreet Mansukhani.
"What for, you want to file the counter affidavit (reply). Tell us what action you have taken. Tell us as to how many people have been served with the notices," it asked.
The bench has now asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta and senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, appearing for Mansukhani, to assist it in the hearing tomorrow. Hegde said that under the Constitution, the poll panel has immense power to tackle violation of MCC by political leaders during electioneering.
The apex court, on April 8, had issued a notice to the Centre and the poll panel on the PIL seeking direction to take "strict action" against political parties if their spokespersons make remarks based on castes and religions in the media in the run-up to general elections.
Referring to communal and caste-based election speeches and remarks of political leaders, Mansukhani said he has filed the plea to "maintain a secular environment in the forthcoming Lok Sabha Election, 2019".
In the plea, he has sought various reliefs including a direction to the poll panel "to take strict actions against the political parties if their spokesperson or representative deliver speeches and make a remark in media pertaining to the religion or caste.
"The 'undesirable development' of appeals to religion, race, caste, community or language of politicians would hamper the objective of fundamental rights provided under the Constitution of India, this would affect the public at large".
The plea, filed through lawyer Arup Banerjee, has also sought setting up of a committee under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court Judge "to have a close watch on the entire election process and to check the loyalty of election commission".
It has also sought a direction to the poll panel to take strict actions against media houses which hold debates on caste or religious lines.
The plea has sought a report from the poll panel on the measures adopted by it in holding "corruption free elections".
(With inputs from PTI)
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