In an attempt to reign in the hooliganism in the name of Kanwar Yatra, Supreme Court has directed the police to take action against 'kanwariyas' who indulge in vandalism and take the law in their hands.
The apex court termed the incidents of vandalism of private and public properties by various groups during protests across the country "grave" and said it will not wait for the government to amend the law.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra and also comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud said it will issue directions in the matter. Attorney General KK Venugopal told the bench that responsibility should be fixed on authorities like the superintendent of the police of the area in cases of vandalism and rioting.
Such incidents of violent protests and rioting happen almost every week in one or another part of the country, he said, and referred to protests on the Maratha reservation in Maharashtra, nation-wide violence following the apex court verdict in the SC/ST matter and the recent incidents of violence involving 'Kanwarias'.
When the film "Padmavat" was to be released, one group openly threatened to cut the nose of the lead actress, he said, and added, "Nothing has happened. No FIR." "Then what is your suggestion," the bench asked the top law officer.
"Fix the responsibility on the officers concerned," Venugopal said, pointing out that unauthorised constructions in Delhi had stopped after it was decided that the DDA officer concerned would be held accountable for such construction in his/her area.
Venugopal said the government has been contemplating an amendment in the existing law to deal with such kind of protests and the courts should allow it to change the law suitably.
"We will not wait for the amendment. This is a grave situation and this must stop," the bench said.
The bench then reserved the order on a plea filed by the Kodungallur Film Society filed through lawyer PV Dinesh seeking enforcement of the apex court's directions passed in 2009 in one of the verdicts.
Issuing a slew of directions, the apex court had said in 2009 that organisers of any protests shall be personally held accountable for the loss of private and public property in the stir.
The bench had also ordered police authorities to videograph such protests so accountability could be fixed.
The apex court's directive comes days after a group of 'Kanwariyas' vandalised a car in Delhi's Moti Nagar as it had brushed passed one of them. The kanwariyas had allegedly attacked the car after one of the passengers, a man and a woman, had slapped one of them during an argument. The cops, who were present at the scene of the incident failed to act against the mob.
The video of the car vandalism went viral, inviting a major backlash from society.
Since the incident on Tuesday, similar reports have emerged from different parts of the Kanwar Yatra route, including Uttar Pradesh's Bulandshahr. Uttrakhand government has also reportedly requested the governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to confisticate baseball bats and hockey sticks from Kanwariyas to deter violence.
Meanwhile, UP Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma said that strict action will be taken against those who take part in anti-social activities in the name of the yatra.
"Those on spiritual pilgrimage are lost in devotion of God, can never be violent, but yes if some anti-social elements get involved then we will take strict action, no one will be spared irrespective of who he is," Sharma said.
'Muslim families flee village to avoid violence'
According to reports in PTI, some Muslim families in a Bareilly village left their homes recently fearing violence when `kanwariyas’ pass through during the annual pilgrimage, an official said on Thursday.
As the kanwariya yatra began winding up, a video surfaced showing a group of people, some of them apparently pilgrims, smashing a police vehicle in Bulandshahr on Wednesday.
Another clip showed a senior Uttar Pradesh police officer showering rose petals from a helicopter on pilgrims, a gesture he said was meant to welcome them. Recently Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath too had conducted an aerial survey of the kanwariya route which passes through the state.
There was trouble last year at Khelam village in Bareilly district, which falls on the kanwariya route.
This time, the police handed out ‘red cards’ as a warning to some Hindu and Muslim families in the village so that the incidents are not repeated, a police official said while requesting anonymity.
About 1,500 villagers were also made to sign a "symbolic bond", committing themselves to paying amounts ranging between Rs 1 lakh to Rs 10 lakh if they created any trouble, the official said.
He said drones and CCTV cameras were also deployed over the past few days in the village, which saw no trouble this time.
The official said families which had left the village have now started returning.
But when contacted, senior officials denied that people had shifted out fearing any violence. A spokesperson said a few people may have been away from the village on work.
"They must have gone for some personal work and by now many have returned," Bareilly (Rural) SP Satish Kumar said.
"We have deployed adequate force in the village to ensure normalcy and there was no law and order problem today," the SP said.
District magistrate Virendra Kumar Singh said anti-social elements had fled the village fearing police action.
Every year, thousands of devotees of Lord Shiva take up the kanwar pilgrimage, walking from their homes in various states to Haridwar and Gangotri in Uttarakhand to fetch pots filled with water from the river Ganga.
The water is then offered at their local Shiva shrines on Maha Shivaratri.
Over the last few days, travellers have complained of huge traffic disruptions by the Kanwariyas, who are seen walking in large groups or riding two-wheelers and trucks, ignoring traffic rules and sometimes wielding hockey sticks.
(With inputs from PTI)