Today's Paper

Apex court forms two committees

Legal Correspondent

It comes in the wake of Gujjar stir

New Delhi: In the wake of the destruction of public property during the recent Gujjar agitation, the Supreme Court on Monday constituted a committee to examine the modalities for making the Prevention of Damage of Public Property Act, 1984, more effective and suggest suitable changes to make the law more meaningful.

A vacation Bench, consisting of Justices Arijit Pasayat and P.P. Naolekar, also appointed another committee to examine the measure of damage, modalities for imposition of damage and the role of the media in cases where there was destruction/damage to property and loss of lives or injuries to persons.

The first committee, to be headed by the former Supreme Court judge, K.T. Thomas, will have as its members senior advocate K. Parasaran, the former CBI Director, R.K. Raghavan, Solicitor-General G.E. Vahanvati (convener) and officers not below the rank of Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Home and Law Secretary and amicus curiae Rajeev Dhavan.

The second committee will be headed by eminent lawyer Fali S. Nariman and will have the Editor-in-Chiefs of TheTimes of India, The Indian Express and Dainik Jagran and Pranoy Roy of NDTV as members. It will also include Mr. Vahanvati and Mr. Dhavan.

On June 5, the apex court took suo motu cognisance of large-scale violence and destruction of public property in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi and directed the States to file affidavits on the action taken. Accordingly, the States filed action taken reports, explaining the measures and the arrests made before and after the violence. Rajasthan and Delhi blamed the electronic media for the escalation of violence as they were repeatedly showing the violent incidents “live.”

Mr. Dhavan submitted that the electronic media could not be blamed for the incidents as alleged by Rajasthan and Delhi. The media conducted itself in an exemplary manner.

The Bench, after hearing Mr. Dhavan and Mr. Vahanvati, said: “It is brought to our notice that as back as in 1984 the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act was introduced. But the number of cases where conviction has been recorded is not known and the amount of fine, if any, imposed, under that statute is also not known. The question relating to the efficacy of the statute and the absence of any provision for imposition of damages is a matter which needs to be focussed.”

The Bench said, “though, we do not, prima facie, agree with the stand taken that the escalation of problems is partially due to the publication/telecast in print or the electronic media, yet, it needs no emphasis that the media has a vital role to play and there should not be any occasion for a grievance that because of any irresponsible coverage by the media tension/violence has escalated and has led to destruction of property and/or loss of lives or causing of injuries.” Hence it said it was appointing two committees to go into the whole issue.

The Bench issued notice to all State Governments and the Union Territories asking them to furnish to the committee in three weeks details of the cases which were tried under the 1984 Act; the number of cases where conviction was recorded and fines realised; their views about the steps that could be taken to make the Act meaningful and effective and measure of damages. The Bench asked the committees to submit the reports by November 15.

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