Protesters must pay for damage to public property – analysis
The continuous protests in Shaheen Bagh of Delhi and the continuous agitations in other parts of the city and the country by the Law of Citizenship (Amendment), or the CAA, have brought to the forefront the debate on the impact of the agitations and the interruption resulting in normal life. While agitators point out their fundamental right to protest, the plight of people affected by agitation and their right to continue normal activity is often ignored.
Last month, Uttar Pradesh police sanctioned 450 people accused of vandalizing public and private property and causing inconvenience to the public. Despite the policy of the subject, this is one of the few cases of punitive action. This theme has long been hidden under the carpet and the organizers and participants of protests and bandhs they are mostly free of Scots, sometimes escaping with a few hours of detention and with minor charges charged to them.
The only other instance of strong punitive action for vandalizing public property was against the Dera Sacha Sauda, whose followers rampaged and destroyed property in Haryana and Punjab in 2017, after the arrest of the cult chief, Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh. The High Court of Punjab and Haryana ruled that all losses caused to the property would be recovered from the Dera. To date, however, no recovery has been made.
India does not have a central legislation regulating the recovery of damages, except for the guidelines of the Supreme Court (SC) of 2009 requesting the respective superior courts to designate a judge on duty / retired as commissioner of claims to judge the damage. Then, in October 2018, the SC realized the incidents of vandalism and rampage perpetrated by violent mobs in the name of the protests, and declared that people and organizers will be responsible for criminal and civil responsibility for creating such inconvenience.
The court said that the persons responsible for initiating, promoting and instigating an act of violence, resulting in loss of life or damage to public or private property, will be responsible and these persons must compensate the victims. The court also established the procedure for the recovery of damages and hoped that a bill, concerning the recovery of pending damages since 2015, will be carried out to its logical purpose.
At present, the action against protesters is limited to the Public Property Damage Prevention Act without teeth, of 1984, which prescribes a prison sentence and a fine for those convicted, but does not have provisions for recovery from damage. . The administration of the UP, in its recent action, is based on a judgment of the Superior Court of Allahabad of 2010 that authorized the government to establish a competent authority to accept claims for damages, listen to all interested parties and approve orders within 30 days
The history of public protests in India derives its legitimacy from the path of civil disobedience and the non-violent protests of the Mahatma, which were an integral part of our struggle for freedom. This legacy continued and intensified during the year and the acceptance of bandhsand hartals, often as unplanned holidays, became part of people’s lives in many parts of the country. In fact, the agitations and disturbances are so ingrained in our culture that we often make it a virtue.
Dozens of agitations in the recent past have caused damage to public property, but the states have made little or no attempt at recovery. Assocham estimated the damage to public and private property worth ~ 1,800- ~ 2 billion rupees, during Jat’s agitation in Haryana in 2016. Patidar’s agitation in Gujarat in 2015 made a dent when the vandals set 660 government vehicles on fire and 1,822 public buildings. Kerala was the epicenter of the Sabarimala protests in 2018, when 49 state buses were damaged.
Rajasthan witnessed many incidents of vandalism and arson around the film’s release, Padmavat in 2017, and then again during the agitation of the quotas of the Gujjar community, at the beginning of last year. Cauvery riots in 2016 in Karnataka saw more than 30 damaged state transport buses. Last month, even when the government introduced the CAA into Parliament, West Bengal erupted and the Indian railways lost an estimated value of ~ 80 million rupees in four days. Of course, this cost does not take into account interruption and inconvenience for citizens, not directly involved in these agitations.
Clearly, it is time to take tougher measures with punitive consequences where both protesters and their leaders, one could call them instigators, are responsible. The United States has state laws with more severe penalties for protesters that block traffic and authorizes law enforcement agencies to recover the costs of protesters that damage or obstruct “critical infrastructure.” The public services included in the critical infrastructure classification include pipelines and gas pipelines; electricity transmission towers, railways and public transport vehicles.
It is time for India to modify its 36-year-old public property damage prevention Law to reflect the new reality. Every protest organizer must make a clear statement that guarantees that his followers will not damage public property and, if they do, must be financially responsible.
Facial recognition technology and the databases (of chronic troublemakers) that empower them can help police nail vandals in a way that can withstand judicial scrutiny. With the increased deployment of surveillance cameras, protest organizers and frontline leaders could be monitored, subject to privacy laws. It is time for India to update the satyagraha of Mahatma to a better version. We cannot afford unhindered damage to public property without liability.
Lloyd Mathias is an angel investor, business and marketing strategist.
The opinions expressed are personal.