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Court: make leaders accountable for destruction of public property

J. Venkatesan

Suggests amendments to PDPP Act

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Thursday suggested amendments to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property (PDPP) Act to make political parties and their leaders accountable for damage to and destruction of public property during agitations and demonstrations.

A three-judge Bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat, Justice Lokeshwar Singh Panta and Justice P. Sathasivam gave this suggestion to the Union government disposing of petitions relating to the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan and others.

Recommendations

The Bench accepted the recommendations of the Justice K.T. Thomas committee and senior advocate Fali Nariman on this issue and suggested stringent punishment for destruction of public property and harsh provisions for grant of bail in such cases.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the vandalism and destruction of property during the Gujjar agitation, the court had constituted committees by Justice Thomas, a former Supreme Court judge and Mr. Nariman to suggest measures to tighten the law and make political parties accountable for such damage.

The Bench quoted the Justice Thomas Committee’s report which said: “In many such cases, the leaders would really be the main offenders being the abettors of the crime. If they were allowed to be immune from prosecution proceedings, such actions would continue unabated and remain a constant or recurring affair.”

Writing the judgment, Justice Pasayat said: “The PDPP Act needs to contain [a] provision to make the leaders of the organisation, which calls for the direct action, guilty of abetment of the offence.” The Bench suggested that the police officers should be enabled “to arrange videography of the activities damaging public property.”“We are of the view that in situations where the prosecution succeeds in proving that public property has been damaged in direct actions in which accused also participated, the court should be given the power to draw a presumption that the accused is guilty of destroying public property and that it is open to the accused to rebut such presumption,” it said.

“The PDPP Act may be amended to contain provisions to that effect.”

On making leaders liable, the Bench said: “It is normally difficult to prove abetment of the offence with the help of direct evidence. This flaw can be remedied to a great extent by making an additional provision in the PDPP Act to the effect that specified categories of leaders of the organisation which make the call for direct actions resulting in damage to public property, shall be deemed to be guilty of abetment of the offence. At the same time, no innocent person, in spite of his being a leader of the organisation shall be made to suffer for the actions done by others. This requires the inclusion of a safeguard to protect such innocent leaders.”

Claims Commissioner

On payment of damages, the Bench said: “Wherever a mass destruction to property takes place due to protests or thereof, the High Court may issue suo motu action and set up machinery to investigate the damage caused and to award compensation related thereto. Where there is more than one State involved, such action may be taken by the Supreme Court. In each case, the High Court or Supreme Court, as the case may be, must appoint a sitting or retired High Court judge or a sitting or retired District judge as a Claims Commissioner to estimate the damages and investigate liability.”

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