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As Anti-Citizenship Act Rages in Delhi, Here’s What the Law Says on Destruction of Public Property

The case for the destruction of public property and violence was filed by both the University and the police in the Court.


Updated:December 17, 2019, 7:29 PM IST
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As Anti-Citizenship Act Rages in Delhi, Here’s What the Law Says on Destruction of Public Property
Protests at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.

New Delhi: Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Tuesday expressed dissatisfaction over the destruction of public property during the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests near Jamia Milia Islamia. He had condemned the violence that erupted during the protests, saying the apex court will not hear the petition if it continues.

The case for the destruction of public property and violence was filed by both the University and the police in the Court.

On Tuesday, as the rioting stopped, the court heard submissions from senior advocates Indira Jaising and Colin Gonsalves, who filed the petitions, and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, who appeared on behalf of the Delhi Police. The apex court rejected the pleas and directed the petitioners to approach high courts in the respective states.

Ahead of the petitioners approaching the high court, News18 explains the law in the country against the destruction of public property.

Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984

This Act provides that anyone who “commits mischief by doing any act in respect of any public property” will be punished with imprisonment for a period of up to 5 years. Under the ambit of this law, public property is recognised as any property which is “owned by, or in the possession of, or under the control of” the Centre, state, local authority and institution or corporation established by the Centre or state.

Such properties include “any building, installation or other property used in connection with the production, distribution or supply of water, light, power or energy; any oil installation; any sewage works; any mine or factory; any means of public transportation or of telecommunication, or any building installation or other property used in connection therewith.”

In the violence that gripped the public university, multiple buses, a fire truck and 10 police bikes were damaged. The police has also been accused of destroying property after it entered the Jamia campus and allegedly assaulted the students inside.

Has the Act been amended as per changing times?

The apex court in 2007 had felt the need to update the Act and thus set up two different committees to offer recommendations. One committee was headed by Justice KT Thomas and the other was headed by senior jurist Fali S. Nariman.

Justice Thomas had recommended that the Act must be amended to incorporate a rebuttable presumption for the accused, who is guilty for the destruction of public property in a direct action called by an organisation, until proven otherwise.

A recommendation was also made to make leaders of the organisation that called the demonstration or protest guilty of the offence. This, the committee said, could be done via the videography of the damaging activities.

The court accepted all these recommendations. These were added in the Act via a circular issued by the Home Ministry on May 20, 2015.

The Nariman committee made recommendations to extract damages for destruction which were also accepted.

What are the guidelines to be followed to investigate damage cause and award compensation?

In addition to the Nariman committee’s recommendations, the court set guidelines that the organiser of demonstration or a protest shall have to meet the police and share details of the route to be taken. The police will also make sure that no weapons are used in the protest, thus setting conditions of a peaceful protest or march only.

In most cases, however, it becomes to ascertain who the protester leaders are, thus making the scope of the guidelines limited. Some protests are spontaneous and may not be necessarily led by someone.

It was also laid down that the police and state government may shoot videos of the protest, both in the case if it turns violent or not. This will be done under the supervision of the SP or the highest police official in the state.

The videos will be used to prepare a report if there are damages made. The state government shall then prepare a report on the police records, evidences and file a petition in the court.

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