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Haryana passes Bill to recover damages from protesters; Congress says linked to farmers’ stir

As Speaker Gian Chand Gupta was completing the process to pass ‘The Haryana Recovery of damages to property during disturbance to public Bill, 2021’, by a voice vote, some Congress members rushed to Well of the House demanding its withdrawal raising slogans of “Bill vapas lo, vapas lo”.

By: Express News Service | Chandigarh |
Updated: March 19, 2021 9:09:03 am
IMF on farm laws, Gerry Rice, Farm laws iNdia, Farmers protests, Narendra Modi, India news, Indian expressFarmers burn copies of new farm laws at a protest site. (Express Photo by Praveen Khanna)

Amid stiff opposition and apprehension raised by Congress members, the Haryana Assembly Thursday passed a Bill that will allow authorities to recover compensation from protesters for any damage to property.

As Speaker Gian Chand Gupta was completing the process to pass ‘The Haryana Recovery of damages to property during disturbance to public Bill, 2021’, by a voice vote, some Congress members rushed to Well of the House demanding its withdrawal raising slogans of “Bill vapas lo, vapas lo”.

Later, justifying the Bill, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said it was “necessary to instill fear in the minds of those who damage property and this is our constitutional legal system”. His predecessor and Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, however, said the law “is going to strangle democracy”.

The Bill, which will become law after the Governor’s assent, “provides for recovery of damages to properties caused by persons during disturbances to public order by an assembly, lawful or unlawful, including riots and violent disorder”. It has also provision for the constitution of Claims Tribunal to determine the liability, to assess the damages caused and to award compensation. Uttar Pradesh was the first state to bring a Bill for recovery from the people for damages caused to public property during agitation and protests.

With Haryana facing intense farmers’ agitation and the BJP-JJP leaders being boycotted by the protesters making their public meetings almost impossible, the Congress questioned the timing of the Bill. However, Khattar and Home Minister Anil Vij rejected the Congress accusation.
Vij said the Bill was meant to hold accountable those who burn shops and damage other public and private property during protests. “We are not bringing this Bill against people’s democratic right to hold a protest, “ he said, adding, “the actual perpetrators of such acts of violence and crimes as also the instigators, organisers be made liable for damages to public and private property and the cost of the forces requisitioned from outside the state for controlling such acts of violence and crimes”.

But senior Congress leader R S Kadian claimed that the Bill infringed upon fundamental rights. “What was the need for such a Bill? This Bill has been brought at a time when farmers are sitting on protest,” he said. He objected to the word “instigator” used in the Bill. “It is a vindictive piece of legislation,” he said.

Vij also claimed that Bill was not linked to the ongoing farmers’ agitation. “During past 110 days (of agitation), the farmers have not even broken a leaf,” said Vij. “We did not stop the agitators from observing the hunger strike, blocking roads and trains,” he added. He repeatedly asked opposition members to decide whether they supported those who cause damage to property and resort to violent means or if they are with those who believe in holding peaceful protests.

Referring to provisions in the Bill, Kadian charged, “This bill is aimed at dividing the state and its people, a scare is being created. The way this Bill has been introduced, it raises many doubts…Those who participated in the freedom struggle had dreamed of a society without fear. But this (Bill) comes in the category of infringement of fundamental rights.”

He said the Bill should be withheld and referred to a select committee of the House.

Independent MLA Sombir Sangwan, who had earlier withdrawn support to the Khattar government over the farmers’ issue, said the government was mistaken if it felt the farmers’ stir will end due to “fear” over the proposed law. “There is every possibility of misuse of this law,” said Sangwan.

While the government asserted that there was no connection between the two, Congress leader Kiran Choudhary said the “perception” is important. She alleged that the Bill contained “draconian provisions” and was being brought to suppress farmers.

Later, addressing media outside the House Khattar said that the 2.5 crore people of Haryana have every right over their land and it is the responsibility of the state government to protect it. For this purpose, the Bill was passed by the Vidhan Sabha. “It is necessary to instill fear in the minds of those who damage property and this is our constitutional legal system,” said Khattar, adding that this law should have been framed long ago.

He said that in a democracy everyone has the right to speak and protest peacefully, but no one has the right to damage property.

Former chief minister Hooda, however,claimed that the “purpose and reasons of the proposed law” have “clearly written that the government wants to instil a sense of fear” among the common man. “Section-14 of the Bill states that the recovery will not only be made from those who indulge in violence but also from those who want to lead the protest, the organizers, those involved in its planning, those who provide encouragement and the participants. The government will take action by placing every protesting person in the category of guilty,” he said.

The government, he said, has also violated the directions given by the Supreme Court in 2009 that innocent people should not be harassed in cases of recovery from those indulging in violence and they may even be leading the protest. “The court also recommended protection to those who took part in the agitation peacefully but the government has clearly overlooked the provisions,” he said, adding that the proposed legislation “does not fix any responsibility or accountability on the government and police”.

“During the debate, Home Minister admitted that there was no violence during the farmer’s movement against three farm laws. If he believes so, then why is the government continuously filing cases against innocent farmers. The government should withdraw all the cases,” Hooda demanded.

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