Wednesday, August 17th, 2022 17:53:49

Protestors to pay for Damages in Haryana

By Sanjeev Sirohi
Updated: April 2, 2021 5:04 pm

It is most refreshing, most rejuvenating and most reasonable that the state of Haryana has also now joined the distinguished club of states who have their own exclusive law for recovering damages from protesters. It is high time and now all the States must join this distinguished club and no State should be left out under any circumstances! How can burning of buses, burning of public buildings and damage to public property be justified under any circumstances?

It goes without saying that to protest peacefully is an intrinsically fundamental right of every citizen of India. But to damage property and indulge in acts of arson, violence and all such acts which causes huge loss to the people as also to the State cannot be given to any citizen not even to the President of India. No person should under any circumstances be allowed to go scot free who damages public and private property no matter who he/she may be! Only then will the right message go to the people that, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you!”

It also goes without saying that all those who still dare to indulge in wanton acts of violence, damaging property both public and private and resorting to acts of arson have to be put behind bars and held accountable for their misdeeds and made to pay for what all they damaged. Any leniency shown on this score will only send a wrong message and encourage others to follow suit as we see most unfortunately in our very own country! Therefore, no one should be spared at any cost and under any circumstances whatsoever!

Needless to say, it is most gladdening to see that the Haryana State Assembly has just recently passed the “Haryana Recovery of damages to property during disturbance to public Bill, 2021” on March 18, 2021 to recover the compensation from the protesters if they dare to cause damage to property. The Bill was passed by a voice vote even though Congress members objected to it. Later, we saw how the Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar very rightly and remarkably said that, “This law should have been made long time ago. It is the responsibility of the State Government to protect the property of the State, whether it is private or government. No one benefits from the loss of property, in fact, the loss of property leads to economic loss. It was necessary to instill fear in the minds of those who damage property and this is our constitutional legal system.”

He also further rightly added that, “In a democracy, everyone has the right to speak and protest peacefully but no one has the right to damage property.” Haryana State Assembly Speaker Gian Chand Gupta ensured that the Bill was smoothly passed. It must be underscored that the damage and destruction to public or private property is most condemnable and cannot be justified on any ground whatsoever under any circumstances!

To be sure, it must also be pointed out here that the statement of reason and objects for the Haryana Bill says:

“Whereas the general public has taken a serious note of various past and recent instances of mob violence where there was a large scale destruction, burning-looting of public and private properties, injury or loss of lives during disturbances to public order by an assembly, lawful or unlawful, including riots and violent disorder etc and therefore, the State as well as the private individuals, trusts etc had to suffer huge losses in terms of property and costs. The State Government is supposed to take all preventive, remedial measures so that such incidents are not repeated and public order is maintained. In order to prevent recurrence of such circumstances, there should be a legal framework to cause deterrence in the minds of the perpetrators of violence as also the organisers, instigators etc.” The Bill describes “damages” as “loss, injury or deterioration caused by any act or omission by any person to property of central government or state government or another person during disturbance to public order”. It further describes disturbance as one “caused by an assembly, lawful or unlawful and includes a riot, revolt or violent disorder”.

Truth be told, the Bill which will now become law after the Governor’s assent, “provides for recovery of damages to properties caused by persons during disturbances to public order by an assembly, lawful or unlawful, including riots and violent disorder”. Those who damage property must be made liable in all states of India to pay back for it and should not be left scot free under any circumstances as it sets a very bad and dangerous precedent for others to follow merrily! Only then will there be a fear among hoodlums and vandalisers that they shall be strictly punished as per law if they dare to break the law and no political party or leader would be able to save them under any circumstances whatsoever!

Of course, it must be also mentioned here that this new Bill has also provisions for the constitution of a Claims Tribunal to determine the liability, to assess the damages caused and to award compensation. The DM will recover the compensation amount in the same manner as the arrears of land revenue. The Collector shall also have the power to issue an order of attachment of property or bank account of any person against whom an order has been passed by the Claims Tribunal to pay compensation. The Bill provides that such property or bank account shall remain attached till the person makes the payment of the amount due.

Furthermore, this new Bill disallows any civil court to entertain any question pertaining to the claim for the compensation and compensation imposed and “no injunction shall be granted by any civil court in respect of anything which is done or intended to be done by or under this Act”. It is also clarified that all proceedings of the Claims Tribunal shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings. In addition, according to this new legislation, the Claims Tribunal shall also have the right to proceed ex-parte against any person who fails to appear before it despite the summons issued to them.

What’s more, it is then also added that apart from the compensation, the Claims Tribunal can also award “exemplary damages” to be paid by the accused into the Consolidated Fund of India. The Claims Tribunal can also charge simple interest at the rate of 6 percent per annum on the compensation amount. The Bill also adds that no appeal against the order of the Claims Tribunal will be entertained until 20 percent of the compensation amount is deposited with the Collector.

No doubt, it also deserves mentioning here that Uttar Pradesh was the first State to bring a Bill for recovery from the people for damages caused to public property during agitation and protests. It was promulgated by the State Governor Anandiben Patel on 15 March 2020. As per the “Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Bill, 2021” if the protesters were found guilty of damaging the public or private properties would be facing the legal imprisonment for one year or fine of Rs 5000 to Rs 1 lakh. This Bill was passed to empower the Joint and Deputy Commissioners of Police in order to act under the legislation.

It goes without saying that this definitely prompted other States also to act similarly for which UP State Government led by Yogi Adityanath must be commended!  It was passed on 22 August 2020. I really just fail to understand that why can’t all other State Chief Ministers prefer to emulate the worthy precedent set by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh – Yogi Adityanath in this regard?

As we saw, Karnataka also had then subsequently passed similar such law in August 2020 to ensure that rioters are made to pay damages for violence in Bengaluru during the anti-CAA protests. It must be revealed here that Karnataka had invoked a 2009 Apex Court order that had allowed the High Court to constitute machinery to investigate losses and award compensation in cases of riots. The Apex Court had clearly stated that nobody had the right to vandalise public property. The Punjab government under the Akali Dal-BJP rule had also brought in an Act like this in 2014 that provided for recovery of damages to public or private property.

It would be pertinent to mention here that “The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984” punishes anyone “who commits mischief by doing any act in respect of any public property” with a jail term of up to five years and a fine or both. This Act must be amended and should include private property also just like we now see in the case of Haryana also! The provisions of this law can be coupled with those under the Indian Penal Code.

Truly speaking, protests against the “farmers laws” or “any other laws” can never be allowed under any circumstances to be used as a convenient pretext for violence and causing damage and destruction to public or private property. This alone explains that why Haryana State Government has now finally decided to act tough just like UP did earlier! Home Minister of Haryana – Anil Vij very rightly stated that the Bill was meant to hold accountable those who burn shops and damage other public and private property during protests. “We are not bringing this Bill against people’s democratic right to hold a protest,” Vij said adding that, “the actual perpetrators of such acts of violence and crimes as also the instigators, organisers be made liable for damages to public and private property and the cost of the forces requisitioned from outside the state for controlling such acts of violence and crime”.

All in all, there has to be zero tolerance for all forms of violence and damage caused to public and private property under any circumstances! Why no one damages one’s own property? Why should public and private property of some other individual be allowed to be damaged and worst still why should the protesters be allowed to either escape lightly or be allowed to go scot free?

It must be reiterated that every Indian has the right to dissent and hold different opinion from that of State but no one which means no one has the right to damage public and private property under any circumstances and cite the name of some senior Supreme Court lawyer in order to justify it as violence cannot be justified by any lawyer or anyone else on any pretext whatsoever! Can Kapil Sibal or Harish Salve or Vivek Tankha or Rajeev Dhavan or anyone else justify under any circumstances the damaging of public and private property under any circumstances on any grounds whatsoever? The answer is: Definitely not!

It must also be pointed out here that senior and eminent lawyer Rajeev Dhavan had earlier rightly cautioned also that the process for awarding compensation for damages cannot be arbitrary or aimed at targeting the innocent. He very rightly said that, “Nobody can claim the right to destroy private or public property. It is a crime and a tort for which damages can be awarded by a court of law. But the method and due process by which this is to be done cannot be arbitrary or target the innocent.”

It is good to see that Haryana too has now taken the right call on this. Now no one can take law in their own hands in Haryana and yet hope to escape without being held strictly accountable. All the remaining states who don’t have similar such laws must also follow suit on this!

Having said this, it is definitely the bounden duty of the State to ensure that innocents are not harassed or harangued for no fault of theirs under any circumstances under the garb of this new law! It must always be used for the basic purpose for which it is meant – to ensure that those who damage public and private property are punished strictly in accordance with law and no innocent is harassed on any ground whatsoever if he/she is not involved in destruction of public and private property! Only then will the new law serve the true purpose for which it is meant! Let’s hope so fervently!

We have to certainly concede that a good beginning has been made by Haryana thus very rightly emulating UP and Karnataka in this regard! Let’s hope now earnestly that all other states too similarly follow suit in this worthy direction! Rule of law has to be followed always under any circumstances and those who dare to damage public and private property and indulge in naked vandalism must be made to pay through their nose and they should not be released on bail easily!

Before parting, it must be asked: Why should innocent citizens suffer endlessly for no fault of theirs? Even political parties too must be held accountable if they indulge in such despicable, dangerous and dastardly acts! Only then will the right message go all across the country that no one is above the law!

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