Legal Correspondent

Supreme Court to frame guidelines for payment of damages

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday said that it would lay down guidelines for payment of heavy damages for destruction of public property during agitations and demonstrations by political parties and various other organisations.

A Bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice A.K. Ganguly, hearing petitions relating to the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan and others asked Solicitor General G. E. Vahanvati and amicus curiae Rajiv Dhavan to give suggestions for the guidelines, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Justice K.T. Thomas committee and senior advocate Fali Nariman on this issue.

Taking suo motu cognisance of the vandalism and destruction of property during the Gujjar agitation, the Bench constituted committees by Justice Thomas, a former Supreme Court judge and Mr. Nariman to suggest measures to tighten the law and make political parties accountable for such damage.

After considering the reports Justice Pasayat observed that the existing Prevention of Damage to Public Property (PDPP) Act was grossly inadequate to deal with the huge losses in the course of an agitation. He said a large number of private property too suffered loss during such agitations and wondered what kind of compensation or consolation a person would get when the people who devastated his/her property worth cores of rupees got away with just six-month maximum punishment under the Act. The Judge lamented that political parties were competing in inflicting damage to public property.

Justice Pasayat said that after the suggestions were received, the Bench would frame the guidelines.

He indicated that the court would set up a Damage Claim Authority to fast track damage claims. This mechanism would remain in place till comprehensive changes were made in the Act.

In its report, the Justice Thomas committee said: “Destruction of public property has become so rampant during such agitations, actions called by organisations. In almost all such cases, the top leaders who really instigate will keep themselves in the background and only the ordinary or common members or grass roots level followers of the organisation directly participate in such direct actions and they alone would be vulnerable to prosecution proceedings. The committee therefore recommended incorporation of a provision in the PDPP Act to make the leaders guilty of abetment of the offence.”

The Nariman Committee, in its report, suggested that exemplary damages might be awarded, the object of which was to punish those indulging in vandalism.

Fixing liability

It wanted the apex court to lay down principles on which liability could be fastened and damages assessed in cases in which due to the behaviour of mobs and riotous groups public and private property was vandalised and loss of life and injury was occasioned to innocent persons. It said damages must deter people from similar behaviour in future. The Bench posted the matter for further hearing on March 23.