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 any damage to property.
As Speaker Gian Chand Gupta was completing the process to pass the Bill by a voice vote, some Congress members rushed to Well of the House demanding its withdrawal. “Bill vapas lo, vapas lo,” the MLAs chanted.
Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and Home Minister Anil Vij rejected the Congress accusation that the decision to bring the Bill was linked to the farmers’ agitation, on now for months over the 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. “We are not bringing this Bill against people's democratic right to hold a protest.” 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.
A “claims tribunal” will be set up to assess damage to property and fix liability. The collector can order the attachment of property or bank accounts of those asked by the tribunal to pay compensation.
Those affected can move the Punjab and Haryana High Court against the tribunal’s ruling, but only after submitting 20 per cent of the compensation ordered.
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.
The Haryana home minister said there was a demand from the public for such legislation and the state government wanted to bring it even before the farmers’ agitation started.
Vij said the Bill was aimed at curbing those who resort to violence in the garb of protesting.
He repeatedly asked opposition members to decide whether they supported those who cause damage to property and resort to violent means or if they are with those who believe in holding peaceful protests.
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 said the Bill should be withheld and referred to a select committee of the House.
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 the government asserted that there was no connection between the two, Congress leader Kiran Choudhary said the “perception” is important. She alleged that the Bill contained “draconian provisions” and was being brought to suppress farmers.
On opposition claim that there are already legal provisions for punishment to those who damage property, the chief minister Khattar said those related to the Indian Penal Code.
Khattar said the Bill does not mention criminal liability, and has only civil liability provisions related to compensation for damage to property. “It will create strong deterrence,” he added.
The Bill, which will become law after the Governor’s assent, allows the claims tribunal to decide on the proportion of compensation to be recovered from different people involved in “leading, organising, planning, exhorting, instigating, participating or committing the incident leading to damage”.
Meeting reporters later, Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda referred to this provision. “The government will take action by placing every protesting person in the category of guilty,” he claimed.
Hooda claimed the government has violated the directions given by the Supreme Court in 2009 that innocent people should not be harassed in cases of recovering compensation from those indulging in violence. PTI SUN VSD ASH ASH