Court to examine guidelines fixing government's responsibility to prevent protests

The Supreme Court on Monday indicated that it would examine laying down guidelines fixing government's responsibilities to prevent agitators blocking rail and road traffic and causing damage to public property.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly, while expressing concern over the Jats agitation which prevented rail/road traffic and goods movement for 11 days, asked Additional Solicitor-General Harin Raval, Advocate General of Haryana H.S. Hooda and senior counsel Colin Gonzalves to address the court on the steps to be taken in this regard.

Earlier, Mr. Raval submitted that the Haryana government was responsible for recovering from the agitators the Rs. 33.9 crore loss suffered by the Railways due to the agitation.

Mr. Hooda submitted that agitators had disrupted rail and road traffic spontaneously and peacefully over the Mirchpur issue and the government had its own limitations in dealing with unarmed women and children.

Justice Singhvi told Mr. Hooda: “These things don't happen on the spur of the moment. These are well-calculated to ensure their so-called grievances are heard. We will examine what is the extent of peaceful agitation.”

Justice Ganguly said: “Destruction of public property and disrupting train services cannot be allowed in the name of agitation. The political parties behind such agitation must be derecognised and people must be sent behind the bars for such acts. Such activities are not acceptable and they promote lawlessness.”

When Justice Ganguly wanted to know why the State did not pay any compensation, Mr. Hooda said the State government had appointed a Claims Commission headed by a retired Sessions Judge to settle demands for compensation. Justice Ganguly made it clear that the State must pay some amount as compensation to show its bona fides.

Justice Singhvi said it was unfortunate that the losses and the inconvenience suffered by the passengers due to the agitation were not assessed by the authorities. Further, people did not have either time or money to approach the judiciary seeking compensation.

The Bench in its brief order asked the State government and the Railways to come prepared on the next date of hearing to address the court on certain aspects, viz. whether the State administration can allow, directly or indirectly, disruption of rail and road traffic in the name of peaceful agitation by any group, political or otherwise; in the event of such disruptions, what is the responsibility of the State in maintaining law and order and bringing to book the persons involved in the agitation? If the railways suffered losses on account of cancellation of trains and damage to property, should the State government be asked to reimburse the Railways?

The Bench indicated that it would also go into the steps required to be taken for preventing recurrence of such agitations and directed the matter to be listed after three weeks.

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