Expressing concern over the loss of lives and damage to public property during agitations, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked Centre to create courts in every state and union territory to fix accountability for vandalism and compensate the victims of such violent protests. The top court suggested to the Centre that one or more district judges should be given responsibilities in consultation with respective High Courts to prosecute and fix civil liabilities on those responsible for such mayhem.
It favoured criminal action against leaders of such organisations or political parties, whose members would indulge in destruction of public or private properties. A bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit said although guidelines have been framed by the apex court in 2007, which include videography of such agitations, but there exists no mechanism to deal with the damages to be paid to the victim.
“These agitations, which result in damage to life and properties, are now happening very often. If it is to be dealt by High Court or Supreme Court, then it will become very difficult. There should be some forum where people can go and seek remedy as per law,” the bench said. The bench’s order came on a plea filed by advocate Koshy Jacob, who sought implementation of 2007 guidelines of the apex court with regard to the procedure to be adopted by administration during such agitations and submitting of report to the High Courts and Supreme Court.
The top court said that although the Constitution has given the right to people to assemble freely and peaceful protest, but no one has been given the right to damage public property and indulge in violence which results in loss of lives. “Those who fail to maintain peace shall be held accountable and those who suffer must be compensated. At prevention level, police can do it through videography as stipulated in the guidelines issued by the apex court in earlier judgement,” the bench said.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for Centre, agreed with the suggestion and said the government has taken steps to amend the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act in consultation with the Ministry of Law and Justice. He said a draft of the Bill has been prepared and published on the website of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) seeking comments of public and other stakeholders.
The AG said several comments have been received, which were being analysed by the MHA and further steps will be taken accordingly. “We hope the suggestions of the court will be considered by government and incorporated in the law that is being proposed,” the bench said.
Venugopal said there can be civil liability on those who indulge in violence, besides criminal action. Referring to the recent agitation in Darjeeling in West Bengal, the AG said things became difficult for the local people as supplies of food and petrol were cut and the Centre had to rush ten companies of para-military force to allow the trucks to enter Kalimpong.
“People were forced to suffer for no fault due to the Gorkhaland agitation. This should not be done. Those responsible for the chaos need to be held accountable,” the bench said. Advocate Wills Mathew said the court should direct payment of some compensation to petitioner Koshy Jacob for his hardship.
In 2007, the apex court in its verdict had said the police and state government shall ensure videograph of such protests to the maximum extent possible and a Superintendent of Police rank officer should supervise demonstrations.
It had also said that wherever mass destruction of property takes place due to protests, the high court may issue suo motu action and set up a machinery to investigate the damages and award compensation. In cases where more than one state is involved, the Supreme Court may take action.