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Panel headed by ex-HC judge to assess damage to shut Ferozepur distillery

The HC was hearing a petition filed by Malbros International Private Limited, a distillery in Ferozepur district.

The distillery stated that its lawful operation had been stalled by the protesters alleging violation of environmental norms. (Express File Photo/Representative image)

Hearing a petition filed by a distillery in Ferozepur whose functioning has been reportedly disrupted by protesters claiming a loss of more than Rs 17.80 crore since the forced shutdown, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has constituted a committee – headed by a former judge of the high court – to assess the unit’s estimated loss/damage and has directed the panel to submit its report within a period of two months to the court.

As per the orders of the high court, the committee will comprise Justice R K Nehru (retired) who would be the chairman; a nominee of the state government not below the rank of additional commissioner in the Department of Excise and Taxation; and an advocate. The HC was hearing a petition filed by Malbros International Private Limited, a distillery in Ferozepur district. The distillery stated that its lawful operation had been stalled by the protesters alleging violation of environmental norms.

The high court directed the Punjab government to deposit an additional amount of Rs 15 crore with the registry of this court. Also, the Ferozepur Deputy Commissioner shall file an affidavit stating the details of the protesters at the site who have stalled the operation of the petitioner’s unit and the details of the property held by such protesters and of their leaders, and damage/loss suffered by the petitioners or any other claimant.

After hearing the matter, the high court held, “Invariably, the Supreme Court through a catena of judgments has recognised the rights of individuals and citizens to hold peaceful demonstrations to air their grievances and to ensure that their grievances are heard, however, such right cannot be deployed as a weapon to truncate the rights guaranteed to the fellow citizens under the Constitution. The protesters do not derive any superior right merely because of their capacity to assemble together and to make themselves heard. Those who are silent and suffer cannot be deemed to have waived their rights to carry on their trade, occupation or business. Their sufferance cannot be interpreted as their support. The process of law stands not only for those who make themselves heard but it also must discharge its obligation towards those who remain unheard. Evidently, the state has claimed to put a mechanism… renders the assembly illegal and unlawful, yet, the authorities stand helpless… with no commitment or intent.”

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The high court held that it has also become essential to get an assessment of the damage suffered for which an additional deposit is to be made. The deposit is without prejudice to the fact that public money cannot be deployed to fund the illegal activities of the protesters. Public money is meant for development and to sub-serve larger public interest and is not to be used to condone the conscious illegal acts and fund the misadventures of the violators of the rule of law. It is time that the authorities set in place an appropriate mechanism so that the violators causing damage to public or private property feel the heat and learn to protest with responsibility and are held accountable for the consequences of their actions. The high court adjourned the matter for hearing to December 20.

First published on: 01-12-2022 at 09:05 IST
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