In a move that’s causing politicians in the state to sit up and take notice, the Madhya Pradesh police has proposed that the Bhopal district magistrate recover Rs 23.76 lakh from a former BJP legislator for organising a protest without permission in the state capital last week.
BJP leader Surendra Nath Singh, who lost the 2018 Assembly elections to the Congress’ Arif Masood, had mobilised protests at nearly a dozen places across the city on August 20, calling for a ‘gherao’ of Chief Minister Kamal Nath’s official residence to protest the “deteriorating law and order situation in the state” and a drive to evict vendors. He was arrested on the day along with 12 other saffron party leaders.
Singh is the same leader who had stirred a controversy in July when he had threatened to spill Nath’s blood if an eviction drive against illegal vendors was not stopped.
The unannounced protests on August 20 had caused traffic jams across the city and hundreds of policemen had to be deployed to stop the protesters from approaching the CM’s bungalow.
Inspector-General of Police (Bhopal Range), Yogesh Deshmukh, told The Indian Express that the proposal was sent as scores of extra police personnel had to be deployed to maintain law and order on the day. “Police personnel from different areas, who would have been on other official work, had to be withdrawn and deployed. There has to be a cost to it and some accountability fixed,” the IG said, adding, “people miss flights, trains and students their examinations when they get caught in sudden traffic jams. They curse the administration, get frustrated and (eventually) go back to their work.”
Deshmukh said the police was not against protests. He said taking requisite permission would allow the administration to divert traffic and make other arrangements. He argued that such a fine can be recovered from Singh if powers enjoyed by the district magistrate under Section 133 of the CrPC (conditional order for removal of nuisance) are broadly used.
Singh however, was unfazed by the move. “How could have I announced in advance the gherao of the CM’s bungalow? Nobody will permit it,” he said. He added that he would not be deterred by such moves and would continue to hold protests without permission. “Let them put me in jail,” he said.
“Don’t they shut down an entire city (for security reasons) during the Prime Minister’s visits? Should he stop travelling because it causes inconvenience to people?,” questioned the BJP leader, and warned that the police officials behind the move would “suffer the consequences when there is a change of power in the state”.
Bhopal Collector Tarun Pithode said he was examining the police’s proposal. “The intention is good. Those who cause losses should compensate for it,” the collector said. He was yet to find a provision under which he could initiate proceedings against the former legislator.
“The move is tantamount to crushing democracy. We will crush such mentality. If the Kamal Nath government goes ahead and tries to recover the amount, we will hold protests across the state against such controversial orders. One can understand such recovery if someone damages property or causes communal riots,” said former CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan adding nothing like this has been done ever in the past.
The move faced flak from the ruling Congress leaders as well. Congress MLA Kunal Chaudhary said the move was not proper because everyone has a right to air one’s views. He said dharnas and similar forms of protests are routine in a democracy and people can’t be fined for them.