Setting aside Punjab advocate general's arguments that vehemently opposed constitution of a claims/compensation commission for deciding claims regarding destruction of public/private property during May 2009 riots in Jalandhar and other districts of Punjab following attack on Sant Rama Nand in Vienna (Austria), the Punjab and Haryana high court has directed the state to constitute a judge-led commission within a week.
A division bench comprising acting chief justice MM Kumar and justice Alok Singh made it clear that the liability of the compensation amount would be borne by the actual perpetrators of the crime as well as the organisers of the event. It further added that exemplary damages may be awarded to the extent not greater than twice the amount of the actual damage to the affected parties.
During the resumed hearing of a public interest litigation filed by a non-governmental organization General Samaj Manch, the bench directed that the state would appoint a retired chief justice/judge of the Supreme Court/high court or a sitting or retired district judge as claims commissioner. Directions were also passed to appoint an assessor to assist the claims commissioner.
The bench also made it clear to Punjab advocate general Ashok Aggarwal that in case the state failed to appoint a claims commission within a week, the state chief secretary would have to remain present in the court on the next date of hearing along with the entire record of the case.
Displeased over the state government's action, the court said, "More than three years had gone by and various orders had been passed by this court. The state is dragging its feet for reasons best known to it. No adequate steps had been taken to identify culprits, perpetrators of crime." The bench also added that as per the apex court's directions, the state had no other option but to appoint the claims commission.
Sant Rama Nand, preacher of Guru Ravi Dass Gurdwara Ballan village, situated on the Jalandhar-Pathankot national highway, was injured in an attack in a Vienna gurdwara during a congregation on May 24, 2009, after which he had succumbed to his injuries.
After getting the news of the attack, his followers took to the streets in Jalandhar Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Kapurthala districts and set on fire a number of vehicles and vandalised bank ATMs and other public property.
On May 24 and 25, a total of 170 vehicles, including 32 Punjab roadways buses, 23 private buses, seven mini-buses, 17 trucks and 56 jeeps and cars were set ablaze. A total of 18 bogies of Madurai Express were also set afire at Jalandhar railway station. The total damage during the agitations was calculated to be around Rs 7-8 crore.