The Supreme Court has said it will lay down guidelines for action against people damaging public property during protests, saying rioters cannot hold the country to ransom.
The court’s observation comes at a time when large-scale violence in Haryana during the Jat agitation for reservation has left 28 people dead, destroyed businesses, ruined livelihoods and damaged property. Delhi is still reeling under a crisis brought on by the protesters damaging the Munak canal, one of the main sources of water for the Capital.
“The country cannot be held to ransom. You cannot burn the country’s or its citizens’ property,” a bench headed by justice JS Khehar said on Wednesday. The court was hearing the bail plea of Gujarat’s Patidar leader Hardik Patel, spearheading an agitation for his community of Patels to be given the Other Backward Classes status that would get them reservation in jobs and colleges.
Patel has been charged with sedition for allegedly egging on the members of his community to kill policemen during the agitation marred by rioting and violence.
“We must take a call on the issue and we would frame guidelines for taking action against people indulging in such acts,” the bench said. “Whether it is BJP or Congress or any other organisation, they must realise that they can be held accountable for the damage to the public property.”
Fixing Thursday for the hearing, the court asked the government’s top legal officer attorney general Mukul Rohatgi to appear in the matter. Rohatgi opposed the plea for quashing sedition case against the 22-year-old Patidar leader.
Taking note of large scale violence during a Gujjar agitation for affirmative action, the court in 2009 issued a set of norms including making rioters pay for damage to property, holding protest leaders responsible for such losses and laying down stringent condition for bail to rioters.
The court had left it to appropriate authorities to implement the norms. It, however, did ask the government to take into consideration suggestions made by its two panels while framing laws.
The court’s Wednesday’s decision also mirrors the concern of industry. According to industry body ASSOCHAM, Haryana suffered a loss of about R20,000 crore due to the quota stir called off recently after the government gave into the Jat community’s demand.
Apart from destruction of property, industrial production also took a hit. Rail and road traffic was paralysed for days, leaving thousands of people stranded. Buses, trucks, cars and railways stations were set on fire during the two-week agitation, which, according to the state’s top police officer, left 28 people dead and 200 injured.
The court did not make a reference to the Jat protest but expressed concern over the breakdown of law and order during such agitations. “The country must know what the consequences are,” it said.
During the brief hearing, Rohtagi told the court that the Gujarat Police had already filed a charge sheet in the case. They have accused Patel of instigating the community members to kill policemen and adopt violent ways to “wage war against Gujarat government”.