Haryana passes Bill to recover damages after violent protests; Cong links move to farmers' stir

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Chandigarh, Mar 18 (PTI) Amid protests by Congress members, the Haryana Assembly on Thursday passed a Bill that will allow authorities to recover compensation from violent protesters for damage to property.

As Speaker Gian Chand Gupta was completing the process to pass the Bill by a voice vote, two Congress MLAs rushed to Well of the House demanding its withdrawal.

“Bill vapas lo, vapas lo,” Congress MLAs chanted.

Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Home Minister Anil Vij denied the Congress suggestion that the decision to bring the Bill was linked to the farmers’ agitation over legislation enacted at the Centre.

Vij said the Bill was meant to hold accountable those who burn shops and damage other public and private property during protests. But senior Congress leader R S Kadian claimed that the Bill infringed upon fundamental rights.

'What was the need for such a Bill? This Bill has been brought at a time when farmers are sitting on protest,” he said.

The MLA also objected to the word “instigator” used in the Bill. “It is a vindictive piece of legislation,” he said.

The Haryana Recovery of Damages to Property during Disturbance to Public Order Bill, 2021 was tabled in the House three days back. It was passed after an hour-long discussion.

The Bill provides for recovery of damages to property caused during disturbances to public order by an assembly, lawful or unlawful, including riots and “violent disorder”.

A “claims tribunal” can be set up to assess damage to public property and fix liability. The collector can order the attachment of property or bank accounts of anyone asked by the tribunal to pay compensation.

Uttar Pradesh has invoked similar provisions to seek damages from alleged rioters who targeted government property during protests in 2019 over amendments to the citizenship law.

Countering the opposition charge, minister Vij said, “We are not bringing this Bill against people's democratic right to hold a protest. They said we are bringing this for farmers' agitation, but there is no connection.” He said the state government had begun drafting the proposed legislation even before the farmers’ agitation started.

The minister said the Bill was aimed at curbing those who resort to violence in the garb of protesting.

Vij repeatedly asked opposition members to decide whether they supported those who cause damage to property and resort to violent means or were they with those who believe in holding a peaceful protest.

Referring to provisions in the Bill, Congress MLA Kadian charged, “We can see these are infringements of one's fundamental rights.

'This bill is aimed at dividing the state and its people, a scare is being created,” he said.

Kadian also suggested that the Bill could be referred to a select committee of the House. Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda sought its withdrawal.

Independent MLA Sombir Sangwan, who had earlier withdrawn support to the Khattar government over the farmers' issue, said the government was mistaken if it felt the farmers' stir will end due to “fear” over the proposed law.

While Khattar asserted that there was no connection between the two, Congress leader Kiran Choudhary said the “perception” is important. She claimed the Bill contained “draconian provisions”. PTI SUN VSD ASH ASH