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SC: leaders to be held guilty of damage during bandhs

Anguished by instances where agitations,bandhs and hartals end up in large-scale destruction of public and private properties...

Written by Tannu Sharma | New Delhi |
April 17, 2009 1:16:28 am

Anguished by instances where agitations,bandhs and hartals end up in large-scale destruction of public and private properties,the Supreme Court on Thursday said top leaders of such parties would be held responsible as “main offenders” and damages sought from them.

Observing that destruction of public property has become “rampant”,the Bench headed by Justice Arijit Pasayat was disappointed that leaders,who call for such bandhs,actually escape the brunt of action taken against offenders. “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 grassroots level followers would directly participate and they alone would be vulnerable to prosecution proceedings,” found the Bench,while asking these leaders to pay up for the damages.

As the Bench held that these leaders would “really be the main offenders being the abettors of the crime”,it ruled,“If they are not caught in the dragnet and allowed to be immune from prosecution proceedings,such direct actions will continue unabated,if not further escalated,and will remain a constant or recurring affair.”

Accepting suggestions put forth by two court-appointed committees,one headed by retired judge K T Thomas and another by noted jurist Fali S Nariman,the Bench recommended far-reaching amendments to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act,1984. Asking leaders to pay for damages by suggesting an amendment in the Act,the apex court felt it must contain provisions “to make the leaders of the organisation,which calls the direct action,guilty of abetment of the offence”.

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Realising that it would be “normally difficult” to prove abetment of offence against top political leaders,Justice Pasayat,who wrote the judgment,suggested an additional provision in the PDPP Act to solve this problem. “…to the effect that specified categories of leaders of the organisation which make the call for direct actions resulting in damage to public property,shall be deemed to be guilty of abetment of the offence. At the same time,no innocent person,in spite of his being a leader of the organisation shall be made to suffer for the actions done by others. This requires the inclusion of a safeguard to protect such innocent leaders,” it ruled.

The Bench also suggested that courts be “empowered to impose a fine which is equivalent to the market value of the property damaged on the day of the incident”. This,the Bench ensured,would be in addition to stiffer punishment,which would not ordinarily be reduced by the Courts.

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