More than two years after 36 people were killed in arson and violence following conviction of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, a full bench of Punjab and Haryana High Court Tuesday finally begun hearing arguments over whether compensation to be paid for damages caused to public and private property can be recovered from the self-styled godman’s Dera Sacha Sauda.
Violence had broken out in parts of Punjab and Haryana after a special CBI court convicted Ram Rahim in a 15-year-old rape case on August 25, 2017. Of 36 people who died in the clashes, 28 casualties were reported from Panchkula while Sirsa, where the dera is based, had reported three deaths. Vehicles worth several lakhs were gutted in arson.
“What about the 32 lives? Who is responsible? Was it not the responsibility of state government…,” asked the court as arguments were being advanced by amicus curiae and Senior Advocate Anupam Gupta on the question of recovery of damages from Dera Sacha Sauda, which has been restrained from selling or transferring its property, and the compensation to be paid to the victims.
The hearing over fixing liability in the matter began for first time Tuesday since the questions on law regarding it were framed for adjudication by the court in August 2017. While the hearing lasted for around three hours, the court hinted that it will hear arguments over the question on three dates for the case’s speedy disposal. It adjourned the matter to Friday for further arguments by the Amicus. The case is being heard by a full bench of Justices Rajeev Sharma, Rakesh Kumar Jain and Augustine George Masih.
During the hearing, the court, while observing about mob mentality, said that most of the people in such a procession are not aware as to why they are part of the gathering. “This is the position of mob mentality…they will just join hands,” observed the court, as it asked why should it happen at all and why should not it discuss how such situations can be prevented instead of closing such a matter on mere question of compensation.
Amicus Gupta said that the entire Haryana, including its political leadership, was involved in the situation created in Panchkula that day, adding, they went into a “self-induced paralysis”. “It is possible that police may have wanted to take (early) action but there was a policy decision against it,” he submitted.
The court earlier, while mincing no words, observed that for three days in August 2017 before the expected verdict, the Dera followers were allowed to gather in Panchkula and nothing was done by the state. They were “actively supported” by the state, observed the court, further adding, nothing would happen if a government shows its will in such situations.
“The administration was providing water and food. These are the questions, which will come up,” observed the court, adding the questions regarding such protests are problems of everyday even if right to a peaceful protest is protected by the Constitution.
While referring to a recent fire breakout in Delhi in which 43 people died, the court, commenting in general regarding the loss of lives and its impact over families, said the Municipal Corporation of Delhi has now given notices for closure of illegal units. “Why after (the fire)? What about the families (of victims),” asked the court as it questioned the knee-jerk reactions of authorities and stressed on instead taking preemptive steps.
On Tuesday, a number of cases including foreign judgments were cited by amicus Gupta in the case. He also made arguments regarding the Supreme Court-appointed Thomas and Nariman committees which have already made their recommendations on the question of liability.