THE GOVERNMENT plans to bring “safeguards” for political leaders in the proposed Prevention of Destruction of Public Property (PDPP) amendment Bill, which is likely to be introduced in Parliament next month, in order to avoid misuse by rivals.
The move follows public consultations, including with law enforcement agencies, who raised objections to certain provisions of the Bill — like putting the burden of proof on the accused.
“During consultations, there were strong views about how a political party may misuse the provisions of law and try to frame Opposition leaders who call the bandh, by inciting violence and damaging property, if they are aware that by doing this, they may be able to send their political opponents behind bars,” said an official.
So, among the “safeguards” likely to be included is a provision to empower investigating officers and magistrates to examine the evidence at the time of arrest.
The leader of the political outfit can be granted relief if he is able to prove that the offence was committed “without his knowledge” and he exercised “due diligence” to prevent the offence.
Another amendment opposed by law enforcement agencies in the PDPP Act, 1984, relates to “abetment of mischief”. It was proposed that under a new section (4B), in case of damage to public property during a demonstration, hartal or bandh called by any organisation, the office-bearers of the organisation would be deemed guilty and punished accordingly.
“State police has sought more clarity on abetment of mischief clause as they say it may lead to arbitrary arrests and the provision can be misused to settle political scores,” said a senior government official who did not want to be named.
The home ministry, in its proposal, had suggested that leaders of political parties would not only face jail term but would also be required to pay for the damage, as ascertained by the courts. This, according to officials, has been accepted by all stakeholders.
The Bill includes a provision to make the offence non-bailable unless “there are reasonable grounds to believe that he (the accused) is not guilty”.
However, the government is likely to drop the proposal to include “damage to private properties” in the Act, since such properties are covered under different insurance schemes.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2015 report, Tamil Nadu (1,671), Uttar Pradesh (1,131) and Haryana (529) recorded the highest number of cases under the PDDP Act.
In 2007, the Supreme Court had asked the government to bring amendments to the PDPP Act. While appointing a committee to examine the law, the apex court, in 2009, had observed: “In almost all such cases, top leaders of such organisations who really instigate such direct actions will keep themselves in the background, and only the ordinary or common members or grassroot-level followers directly participate, and they alone would be vulnerable to prosecution proceedings.”
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