The Supreme Court on Thursday said it cannot form an opinion on veracity of allegations in a plea before it regarding attacks on Christians in the country, and asked the Union Ministry of Home Affairs to seek verification reports from Bihar, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
The apex court granted two months to conduct the entire exercise of collating information — which includes registration of FIRs, arrests made, status of investigation, and the charge sheets filed.
A bench of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Hima Kohli said that it “can’t form an opinion on the veracity of allegations made (in the plea) submitted to us….”. It said all the Chief Secretaries of all the eight states should ensure that all the required information is submitted to the MHA and the result of verification conducted should be filed in the top court. The bench added that it would be better to verify the allegations made in the plea.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioners, submitted that 700 prayer meetings of Christians were stopped and violence was used against them. He said when incidents of violence were reported to the police, they asked the people to stop prayer meetings and provided grim details of various incidents of violence against Christians. He informed the court that the petitioner has tabulated the incidents where Christians were attacked.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, representing the Centre, said the MHA on verification found that many incidents referred to in the plea as communal attacks, were found to be either false or exaggerated.
During the hearing, the bench noted that there are crimes and there are communal crimes, and “we need to distinguisha and we ask the states to respond”.
Mehta opposed it, saying, “notice to states to conduct roving inquiry… these will have ramifications”, and that petitioner’s contention is based on self-serving reports, where their own people collect information on the alleged incidents.
The bench said some victims may not have resources to take the legal route, and pointed out the court is not keen to conduct a roving inquiry but it may select some states. Mehta remarked that according to the petitioner, a few incidents were reported from West Bengal and it was most peaceful. The bench said it can ask state governments to apprise it of what action has been taken on incidents of violence against the Christian community and asked Gonsalves to share the information with authorities concerned.
Earlier, the Central government had told the Supreme Court there is no merit in the plea alleging increasing attacks on Christians in the country. It said that such deceptive petitions, creating unrest throughout the country and perhaps for getting assistance from outside the country to meddle with internal affairs of the nation.
The MHA, in a written response, said: “It is submitted that there appears to be some hidden oblique agenda in filing such deceptive petitions, creating unrest throughout the country and perhaps for getting assistance from outside the country to meddle with internal affairs of our nation.”
It said the petitioner has resorted to falsehood and self-serving documents and also cited press reports, where Christian persecution is either false or wrongfully projected.
The MHA’s response came on a plea alleging rising number of attacks on Christian institutions and priests across the country and seeking the implementation of its guidelines to curb hate crimes.
The petitioners Rev. Peter Machado and others sought implementation of the guidelines issued by the apex court in the 2018 Tehseen Poonawala judgment.