Damage to public property: Who bears the cost and what the Supreme Court said
Lucknow, Dec 31: The Uttar Pradesh government's move to recover damages from those who allegedly destroyed public property during protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) has created a controversy with the opposition alleging that the Yogi Adityanath government is acting too harsh on the protesters.
The state government has issued notices to around 500 people asking them to pay up a total of Rs 14.86 lakh in damages for the destruction of government properties.
The notices cited a 2010 Allahabad High Court decision in the Mohammad Shujauddin v State of UP case, which had directed the state government to compensate for the loss to public caused during the violent agitations from those indulging in acts of violence.
2010 Allahabad High Court verdict
The order passed by Justice Sudhir Agarwal called for the stringent measures after noting the state had failed to implement the provisions of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property, enacted in 1984 to punish those who damage public property.
The 1984 the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act has also empowered the civil administration to take action against the accused.
"It appears that everybody believes that public property has no custodian. It is like orphan. It is the birthright to destruct and damage it in a manner they like without any sense of responsibility... What is more disturbing is that law enforcement machinery mostly is a silent spectator watching destruction of public property," Justice Agarwal observed.
Upon receiving information on violent protests the police must register an FIR immediately, the court directed.
After identifying the person or group the local body, public corporation, whoever is the owner of the property, shall file a claim for realisation of such amount from the political parties/persons before the competent authority, as nominated by the state.
What SC said?
The Supreme Court has often raised concern over the damage to public property during agitations, saying the country cannot be held to ransom and that it will lay down parameters for fixing accountability for the losses.
The top court had in 2007 initiated suo motu proceedings and set up two committees - one headed by a Justice (Retd) KT Thomas and the other headed by noted jurist Fali S Nariman.
While the Thomas Committee recommended that the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984, must be so amended, the Nariman committee has suggested that leaders of the agitation should be made absolutely liable for the destruction of properties by their supporters and there should be self-regulation on the part of the media.
The SC guidelines say that rioters be made strictly liable for the damage, and compensation would be collected to "make good" the damage.
The apex court directed the High Courts to order suo motu action and to set up a machinery to investigate the damage caused and award compensation wherever mass destruction to the property takes place due to protests.
Appointment of claims commissioner
The SC also directed to appoint a sitting or retired high court judge or district judge as a "claims commissioner" to estimate the damages and probe liability. An assessor can also be appointed to assist the claims commissioner.
Reportedly, the Delhi Police has written to the high court requesting it to appoint a claims commissioner to draw an estimate of the damage of properties during the anti-CAA protests and "investigate liability".
In a letter to the Registrar General of the Delhi High Court, the police said during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests, there has been a "massive and extensive" damage to public and private properties causing "huge losses to government exchequer".
Jamia Millia Islamia students protest
Recently, the top court pulled up the students for taking law and order into their hands during the protests on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Chief Justice of India, S A Bobde said that the court will not be bullied into hearing the petition alleging police atrocities.
The SC cannot be held ransom when public property is being destroyed. Just because they are students, they cannot take law into their own hands. Justice Bobde also said that the courts cannot do much. It is a law and order problem and the police have to deal with it, he also said.
More than 1,100 people are under arrest and 5,558 kept in preventive detention following violence related to the anti-citizenship amendment act protests, putting the death toll in police clashes across the state at 19.