The Kerala High Court on Thursday directed banned outfit PFI and its ex-state general secretary to deposit Rs 5.2 crores with the Home Department towards damages estimated by the KSRTC and the state government in connection with the hartal-related violence on September 23, saying they must be held accountable for it.
Expressing concern that the state administration “did virtually nothing to prevent the hartal organisers from going ahead with their illegal demonstrations and incidental road blockages” despite a 2019 HC order against it, the court said Abdul Sathar, ex-state general secretary of PFI, be made an accused in all the hartal-violence related cases.
A bench of Justices A K Jayasankaran Nambiar and Mohammed Nias C P also directed that when considering bail pleas in those cases, magisterial and sessions courts should impose a condition which insists upon payment of the amount quantified towards damage/destruction of property by the accused for grant of any relief to them.
“Citizens of the state cannot be made to live in fear solely because they do not have the organized might of the persons or political parties at whose instance such violent acts are perpetrated,” the court said.
It further said that media reports revealed that the police force played only a passive role in dealing with the situation on September 23 till the court intervened on that date.
“An effective compliance with our earlier order dated January 7, 2019 would have necessitated the state administration to ensure that no public procession, gathering or demonstration took place in the state if the same was in connection with a call for a flash hartal,” the bench said.
It fixed them with the financial liability, saying that their action of inciting their supporters and goading them into violent acts on the hartal day “cannot be legally countenanced”.
“They must be held responsible and made accountable for their illegal actions,” the bench said and directed them to deposit the amount within two weeks.
On failure to deposit the amount within the stipulated time, the state government shall take immediate steps under the Revenue Recovery Act to proceed against the assets/properties of PFI, the personal assets of its office bearers, including Sathar, for realisation of the Rs 5.2 crores, the court directed.
“The amounts so realized shall be purely provisional and shall be duly accounted for and held by the state government in a separate and dedicated account, for disbursal to those claimants who are identified by the Claims Commissioner as entitled to such amounts.
“The respondents shall also be liable to such further amounts as are found to be payable to the claimants in the adjudication proceedings before the Claims Commissioner,” the court said.
It appointed P D Sarangadharan as the Claims Commissioner and directed the state government to ensure his office is fully functional within three weeks.
With these directions, the bench listed the matter on October 17 for the state government to report the action taken in compliance of the directions.
The order came on a plea moved by the Kerala State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) through advocate Deepu Thankan seeking compensation of over Rs 5 crores from PFI and Sathar for damages to its buses and reduction in services during the hartal on September 23.
During the hearing, the state government told the bench that strict and unbiased legal action was initiated in all instances of violations reported during the hartal.
It also said that private vehicles and private establishments also suffered a loss to the tune of Rs.12,31,800, due to the wrath of the harthal sympathizers.
“Almost all the accused in the incidents that took place on the day of PFI harthal were identified and many of them were already arrested and the remaining will be arrested soon. Till September 26, 417 FIRs were registered in connection with the incidents during the harthal, 1,992 persons were arrested and 687 preventive arrests were made,” the state told the bench.
KSRTC, in its plea, has contended that the hartal was called without any advance notice which was a violation of the high court’s orders and that the violence on that day resulted in smashing of windscreens and damage to seats of 58 buses, injuries to 10 employees and one passenger.
It has further claimed in its plea that the repair cost of its buses, the loss due to their inoperability during repairs and the reduction in service on September 23 due to the hartal has caused it an overall pecuniary loss of Rs 5,06,21,382.
KSRTC has contended that those who called the hartal were liable to compensate it for its losses and has sought a direction to that effect.
Sathar, when he was the state general secretary of the outfit, had called for the hartal against the nation-wide raids on PFI offices and arrests of its leaders, and then allegedly absconded.
Hours after PFI was banned, he had issued a statement saying the outfit has been disbanded in the wake of the Home Ministry’s decision and subsequently, he was arrested.