GoM on lynching discusses need to tighten penal provisions

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New Delhi : A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Wednesday here deliberated on the need for tightening the law to prevent incidents of lynching and taking action against social media platforms which have been blamed for the recent spurt in such incidents.

In the hour-long meeting, the GoM discussed the report of the Committee of Secretaries submitted last week and the possible changes in the Code of Criminal Procedure to punish those involved in mob lynching incidents.

A recommendation for action against the India heads of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, which are used to spread fake news and other "sinister" campaigns on social media, also came up for discussion.

The GoM's view is that all possible steps should be initiated to ensure that social media platforms do not become a means for spreading rumours and messages that lead to social disharmony, said sources.

The meeting was attended among others by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba.

The Committee of Secretaries, whose report has not been made public, was formed by the government after a Supreme Court verdict a couple of months ago to examine ways to initiate a crackdown on the rising incidents of lynchings and mob violence across the country. The apex court had said it is the "responsibility of the government to protect the citizens".

The GoM, which also includes Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari and Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot, will submit its final recommendation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Centre's step to deal with rising incidents of mob lynching followed an apex court suggestion to examine and enact a separate law to crack down on such offences so that it can instil a sense of fear in the perpetrators. The government may also be worried about the political repercussions of these incidents in the run up to the general elections next year.

The committee of secretaries, which held consultations with a cross-section of stakeholders before submitting its report to GoM, feels that social media companies and ubiquitous instant messengers such as WhatsApp need to take responsibility for not tracing, and thereafter blocking, malicious content that has the potential to lead to rumour mongering and incidents of lynching and rioting.

Last month, in separate discussions with the Home Ministry, the Law Ministry had examined the matter and felt that treating the offence under a separate section in the IPC, which would define mob lynching, could be an immediate step to begin with.

The Law Minister has already made it clear that there could be charges of "abetment" against WhatsApp if the company continues to say no to tracing the people who are behind the viral and fake messaging.

Over 35 deaths due to lynching have been reported from nine states in the last one year. The most recent case was reported from Alwar district of Rajasthan, where a man named Akbar Khan was beaten up, leading to his death, allegedly by a group of villagers over suspicion that he was a cow smuggler.

In July, the Home Ministry issued advisories to states and Union territories following the Supreme Court's directive to check incidents of lynching. The Centre asked the states to appoint an officer in each district at the level of Superintendent of Police, set up a special task force to gather intelligence, and closely monitor social media contents to prevent mob attacks on suspicion of being child-lifters or cattle smugglers.