Cow Vigilantism

Tehseen Poonawalla v UOI

In July 17th 2018, the SC issued guidelines to curb acts of cow vigilantism. However, it did not address questions on the constitutional validity of immunity provisions for cow vigilantes.



Petitioner: Tehseen Poonawalla; Tushar Gandhi

Lawyers: Indira Jaising; Kapil Sibal; Colin Gonsalves; Sanjay Hegde

Respondent: Union of India; Farmer Welfare and Agriculture Department; State of Gujarat; State of Maharashtra; State of Uttar Pradesh; State of Karnataka; State of Rajasthan; State of Jharkhand

Lawyers: Tushar Mehta; Ranjit Kumar; Hemantika Wahi; Shreyas Jain

Case Details

Case Number: WP (C) 754/2016

Next Hearing:

Last Updated: May 31, 2023

Key Issues


Whether States and the Centre should frame a victim compensation scheme to address the issue of lynching?


Whether State and Central Governments should make separate laws addressing the offence of lynching?


Whether State cow protection laws, which protects cow vigilantes acting in ‘good faith’ are constitutional?

Case Description

On July 17th 2018, the Court pronounced the unanimous judgment, authored by CJI Dipak Misra:

Distressed by the increasing incidents of cow-vigilantism in the country, three individuals: Martin Macwan, a Dalit rights activist; Mohanbhai Hamir Bhai Bedva, an alleged victim of such violence and Tehseen Poonawalla, an activist lawyer, filed the writ petitions in Supreme Court in August, 2016. They sought the Court to issue a direction to the Centre and some States to take action against cow vigilantes.

The Petitioners drew the Court’s attention to the rise of incidents of cow vigilantism, where private citizens violently punish people who they suspect of consuming beef. Notable examples include:

    • The lynching of Akhlaq in Dadri (UP) over alleged beef consumption
    • The hanging of two men in Jharkhand by cow vigilantes
    • The flogging of Dalits in Una
    • The recent lynching of Pehlu Khan in Alwar on suspicion of smuggling a cow.

The petitioners challenged the provisions of cow protection laws of 6 States protecting cow vigilantes – Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Karnataka. In particular they challenge the provisions that prohibit any legal action against persons for actions done in ‘good faith’ under the law.

For example, Section 13 of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976 reads – “that no suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be instituted against any person for any anything which is in good faith or intended to be done under this Act or the rules made thereunder“.

On April 7, 2017, the 3 judge bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra, issued notice to the Centre and the six States in question.

On 13th July, the Bench delivered its judgment, issuing guidelines to curb mob vigilantism. On 20th August 2018, the Court began monitoring the implementation of the guidelines it issued.