A jam-packed Delhi High Court on Thursday adjourned the hearing on filing of FIRs against BJP leaders Kapil Mishra, Parvesh Verma and Anurag Thakur for hate speeches to April 13, giving four weeks to Delhi Police to file a reply on the petition of social activist Harsh Mander, a former IAS officer, and allowed the Centre to be a respondent.
The order came from the Bench of Chief Justice Dhirubhai N Patel and Justice C Harshankar, who took over the case after late night transfer of Justice S Muralidhar to Chandigarh, on Solicitor General Tushar Mehta pleading that the environment was not conducive to register the FIRs now. Justice Muralidhar-led Bench had ordered FIRs within 24 hours in view of the riots breaking out in the national capital because of the hate speeches.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for Harsh Mander, pleaded for an early date but the Chief Justice declined saying one has to wait for the response from the government and the police. “Gonsalves pleaded, “Every day 10-12 people are dying. Please give us a short date.” Harsh Mander said he would move the Supreme Court against the HC’s leniency.
Appearing for Lawyers’ Voice, senior advocate Chetan Sharma said like SG Mehta, this is not the time for pro-active judicial intervention since Delhi needs peace and this is very sensitive time. “Let’s see what reply comes. Today we do A, B, C and what we may order today may be preemptive. Why did all this start? Who started? Who said come on the streets?”
Since the new Bench has assembled, Gonsalves wanted to explain the case briefly, but SG Tushar Mehta interjected to assert that an order passed on Wednesday is already on record and gave details of the events that unfolded with the other Bench issuing the notice. “Two months back sometime in December some hate speeches were made and it was said that registration of FIR was urgent.”
Mehta said the petitioner was selective in choosing only three so-called hate speeches. “There are large numbers of speeches that we have received. We can’t be choosy and selective.” He read the order passed by the Muralidhar Bench, asking Delhi Police to consider all hate speech instances.
Citing perennial dispute between Centre and Delhi government on who represents Delhi Police, the SG moved an application to implead the Centre as a party. He placed an affidavit on record stating that “we have considered the issue of registration of hate speech FIRs and decided to defer the registration after the authorities examined all audio-video material.”
Stressing that the condition is not conducive at this moment, he said the FIRs will be registered at an appropriate time. Standing counsel Rahul Mehra wondered why not register them when 11 FIRs have already been registered. He said the paramount concern should be the welfare of citizens, all of whom are not here while “all of us are concerned over what is happening in Delhi, including the Centre, the State, the petitioner and everyone else.”
The SG said not 11 but 48 FIRs are registered till date, pertaining to loss of property, etc. “At this juncture when all stakeholders are working to ensure normalcy, any hurried intervention may not be conducive,” he pleaded, seeking time to file a response to Mander’s plea.
Gonsalves stated that he has had the privilege to appear before the court and at times even faced orders which were not in his favour. He looked lost when Chief Justice Patel interjected: “Only facts are not in your favour. Facts and law are slightly against.” He still insisted that FIR is only an initiation as nobody is asking for arrest and if no evidence is found, it can be cancelled.
He narrated how the situation changed, narrating that the protests were going on peacefully and the society remained peaceful — a sign of strength of the Indian democracy. “But the slogans changed that….The message was…kill, teaching hatred and deadlines to police to remove demonstrators that resulted in the deaths.”
Gonsalves said three BJP leaders named in the petition whose video clips were seen by every one in the court on Wednesday and there may be many others responsible. “These are very high people in ruling party and the government…implication is that it’s alright to kill,” he said, pleading for an order, very quickly since the facts are indisputable and a clear cut case.
He pleaded: “The hate mongers should be taken off the streets of Delhi and a message should be sent that no matter who you are, the moment you incite, you will be held responsible. You can clearly link the acts of violence with the provocative speeches.”
Gonsalves cited the Lalita Kumari verdict to stress that the FIRs have to be registered immediately and next comes arrest of those people. A counsel for Hindu Sena interrupts, saying he has also sought FIR against Owaisi brothers — Asaduddin and Akbaruddin — and Waris Pathan for the hate speeches. Advocate Pratibha said the sole intention of Mander’s petition is “to defame the Hindus as cause of riot in Delhi.” He pointed out that post-CAA, a group of people claimed the roads in protest and that resulted into the riots.
Two more lawyers also sought to be intervenors but the Chief Justice refused to entertain them, stating that it is not on record today. He then passed an order to make the Centre a party, keeping in view the facts and circumstances and nature of the SG’s prayer.