Claims Commissioner for deciding hartal damages in Kerala to start functioning soon

The Bench orders that office be made functional within three weeks to adjudicate claims in connection with flash hartal by PFI

Published - September 29, 2022 06:31 pm IST - KOCHI

With the Kerala High Court directing the State government to take immediate steps to provide secretarial assistance and infrastructure, Claims Commissioner P.D. Sarangadharan who was appointed earlier by the High Court to investigate and decide on the damages for the loss caused to public and private property during hartals will start functioning soon.

The functioning of the Claims Commissioner, who is a former district judge, has been in limbo for the last two years as the State government has not issued any order on providing infrastructure and secretarial staff and fixing the remunerations of the commissioner.

The Bench, while passing the order in a suo motu case against flash hartals on Thursday, ordered that the office of the Claims Commissioner should be made functional within three weeks so that he could adjudicate claims instituted in connection with the flash hartal by the Popular Front of India (PFI) without delay.

The commissioner was appointed by the High Court in 2020 to estimate the damages and investigate the liability when a writ petition against the hartal held on October 16, 2017 by the United Democratic Front (UDF) came up for hearing. The court had also appointed a panel of 14 engineers and four chartered accounts to assist the commissioner.

The High Court had appointed the commissioner in terms of the Supreme Court judgment in a suo motu case initiated in 2007 in view of the large-scale destruction of public and private properties in the name of agitations, bandhs and hartals.

The apex court had directed that in each case, the High Court or the Supreme Court as the case may be, can appoint a sitting or retired High Court judge or a sitting or retired district judge as a Claims Commissioner to estimate the damages and investigate the liability. It had also ordered that assessors be appointed to assist the commissioner.

The commissioner and the assessors could seek instructions from the High Court or the Supreme Court to summon existing videos or other recordings from private and public sources to pinpoint the damage and establish the nexus with the perpetrators of the destruction.

The Supreme Court also made it clear that the principles of absolute liability shall apply once the nexus with the event that precipitated the damage is established. Besides, the liability will be borne by the actual perpetrators of the crime as well as organisers of the event.

The apex court had ordered that exemplary damages be awarded to an extent not greater than twice the amount of the damages liable to be paid. The damages should be assessed for loss caused to public property and private properties, and damages for causing injury or death to a person or persons. The cost of the actions, including preventive ones taken by the authorities and the police, could also be estimated and recovered.

The Claims Commissioner has to submit a report to the High Court or the Supreme Court which will determine the liability after hearing the parties as per the apex court order.

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