NEW DELHI: Protesters indulging in arson will have to pay a heavy fine and may face long-term imprisonment if the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which is drafting a new legislation, incorporates suggestions from public and stakeholders. The MHA is drafting amendments to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act to enable criminal prosecution of those responsible in destructing property, including leaders organising the protests.
Amid the fierce debate over the Jat agitation, which caused an estimated Rs 20,000 crore loss to public and private property, the proposed law will make the fine amount equal to the market value of the property damaged and also shifts the burden of proof from the prosecution to the accused in certain circumstances.
The Home Ministry has prepared a report on the basis of suggestions received from the public and stakeholders in which they have welcomed amendments saying, “people will be restrained from doing mischief when heavy fines will be involved. It should also help the government to have the loss recovered from the accused thereby compensating for loss of property.”
The Home Ministry has proposed amendments by inserting section 4B which says, “Where damage to public property is caused in consequence of demonstration, hartal or bandh called by any organisation, the office-bearers of such organisation, shall be deemed to be guilty of the commission of the offence of abetment of an offence punishable under this Act and shall be liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.”
The suggestions the Home Ministry received from stakeholders welcomed this amendment saying that it “will help to punish those who encourage damage to public property from behind the scene”. However, there are contrary views saying this may also deter public-spirited persons from raising their voices on behalf of society against any injustice and therefore the proposed law should be moderated. The new law drafted by the Ministry will also make bail provisions more stringent. It says, “Bail shall now be granted only when there are reasonable grounds to believe that the accused is not guilty of the offence.” This change too has been welcomed by stakeholders suggesting that bail was being used as an instrument which removed fear of prosecution from the minds of people.