Haryana Assembly passes Bill to make protesters liable for property loss

Amid protests by the Opposition Congress, the Manohar Lal Khattar BJP-JJP government on Thursday got the Haryana Recovery of Damages to Property During Disturbance to Public Order Bill of 2021 passed by a voice vote in the Assembly.

On the pattern of Uttar Pradesh, the Bill provides for recovery of damages to property caused by people during agitations, including riots and violent disorder, besides the constitution of a claims tribunal.

Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the Bill was brought to scare away people from protesting.

“Peaceful protest is every citizen’s right. There are already legal provisions pertaining to damage caused to property. What about the responsibility of the police in not being able to control law and order?” Hooda said.

Congress legislator Kiran Choudhry said it seemed the law was being brought to suppress the farmers’ agitation.

“This is a draconian law having sweeping powers to frame innocent people,” she said.

Justifying the need to bring the law, Home Minister Anil Vij said its enactment was on their mind well ahead of the beginning of the farmers’ protest.

“Are you with the rioters or against them?” he asked the opposition members.

At this two-time Chief Minister Hooda replied, “We support the farmers and peaceful protesters.”

He asked the government to withdraw the Bill.

Intervening during the debate, Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar said protecting public property is the duty of the government.

He said the existing provision in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) pertained to fixing criminal liability. “This law only ensures fixing of civil liability.”

Independent member Sombir Sangwan said the IPC has provisions for punishment for rioting and damaging public property. “This law is not required and will be misused.”

The Bill reads that the public has taken serious note of various past and recent instances of mob violence where there was large-scale destruction, burning, looting of public and private property, injury or loss of lives during disturbances to public order by an assembly, lawful or unlawful, including riots and violent disorder, etc., and thereof.

The state as well as private individuals, trusts, etc., had to suffer huge losses in terms of property and costs.

The state government is supposed to take all preventive, remedial measures so that such incidents are not repeated and public order is maintained. In order to prevent recurrence of such circumstances, there should be a legal framework to cause deterrence in the minds of the perpetrators of violence as also the organizers, instigators, etc., it says.

Last week, Khattar informed the Assembly that the state suffered a loss of Rs 212 crore from November 26, 2020, to February 9 in the ongoing farmers’ protests against the three new Central agriculture laws.

“The estimated loss till date can be between Rs 1,110 crore and Rs 1,150 crore,” he had added.