Madhya Pradesh Assembly passes law to recover damages from protesters
The Madhya Pradesh Legislative Assembly on Thursday passed a bill that provides for recovery of losses from the people and organisations responsible for damaging public and private properties during protests.
The Assembly passed the Madhya Pradesh Damage to Public and Private Property Recovery Bill, 2021 without any debate and amid a walkout staged by the members of the opposition Congress, who complained that their leader Kamal Nath did not get a chance to speak on the resolution related to the OBC reservation that was passed in the House earlier.
If the Governor gives assent to the bill, Madhya Pradesh will become the third BJP-ruled state in the country after Uttar Pradesh and Haryana to have this kind of law.
MP Legislative Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra presented the bill in the Assembly, but due to the ruckus by the opposition members, it was cleared by a voice vote without any debate.
Talking to reporters outside the House after the proceedings, Mishra said, "The bill has been passed."
Apart from that Rs 1971.94 crore supplementary budget for 2021-22 was also passed, he said.
The bill provides recovery of losses from people and organisations responsible for damaging public and private property during protests.
As per the bill, during a trial, once the prosecution succeeds in proving that a public property was damaged in direct actions called by an organisation in which the accused also participated, the court can draw a presumption that the accused is guilty of destroying public property too.
The onus of proving innocence will be on him or her from this stage of trial onwards. It will be open for the accused to rebut such presumption. Abetment of offence shall carry the same penalty as the main offence, the bill said.
On December 16, a cabinet meeting chaired by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had cleared the bill.
The bill focuses on those indulging in communal riots, hartals (general strikes), protests and those who take out rallies during which property is damaged, and such accused will be tried before criminal tribunals, Mishra had said earlier.
Under the UP law, Claim Tribunals set up under the Act are supposed to decide matters in one year, while the MP bill reduces this time to three months, an official said.
The bill also proposes a provision that "specified categories" of leaders of the organisation which gave the call for direct action resulting in damage to public property shall be deemed guilty of abetment.
At the same time, no innocent person, in spite of being a leader of the organisation, shall be made to suffer for the actions of others, the bill said.
The principles of absolute liability shall apply once the nexus with the event that precipitated the damage is established, the bill stated. The liability will be borne by the actual perpetrators of the crime as well as organisers of the event.
"Exemplary damages" may be awarded to an extent not greater than twice the amount of the damages liable to be paid, the bill said.
Last year, the UP government came out with an ordinance titled "Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act 2020" which was cleared by its Assembly in March 2021.The ordinance was issued in the midst of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
In May 2021, the BJP government in Haryana followed the suit with the enactment of The Haryana Recovery of Damages to Property During Disturbance to Public Order Act, 2021.
In January this year, the MP chief minister had said that a law was needed to deal with incidents of stone-pelting after violence was reported during processions taken out in western MP to collect funds for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
While the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other right-wing organisations alleged that stones were hurled during the processions, Muslims in the region claimed that their places of worship and houses were targeted during these events.