After pushing the controversial Prevention of Damage to Public and Private Property Bill, 2014, the Punjab government seems to have developed cold feet when it comes to implementing it.
The bill was passed by the state assembly in July 2014 after a series of protests and objections by social activists and opposition parties who termed it as a “black law”. Since the Act entailed that it would be used in place of the central Act of 1984, it was sent to the Union government for approval.
The President signed the Act more than a month ago and was sent back to the Punjab government for notification. However, the chief minister’s office is sitting on the draft notification of the act since then.
Conceived to act as a strong deterrent against protesters damaging public and private property, the act had laid down strict provisions whereby a strike, road or rail blockade would attract imprisonment of up to a year and/or a fine which may extend to Rs 1 lakh. The act states that anybody found guilty of damaging public/private property by fire or explosives would be punished with a term not less than a year which may extend to two years and will be liable to a fine of Rs 3 lakh.
Other than the sentence, the guilty will also have to pay for the loss caused to the property. The bill provides for the setting up of a competent authority which will assess the loss. The amount can also be recovered by attaching the property of the accused.
The definition of damaging act included agitations, strikes, dharnas, bandh or demonstrations, blockades of rail or road traffic by which any damage is caused to public or private property.
The Act further laid down that an offence committed under the new law would be non-bailable and a videographic evidence of the “damaging act” would be sufficient to arrest and prosecute the accused.
The bill was passed in the assembly despite opposition with deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal explaining that the bill had been introduced and was to be enacted following instructions of the Supreme Court.
However, more than a year later when all the modalities have been completed and the act only needs to be notified following the approval of the chief minister, the government is delaying its implementation.
Sources say with the ongoing situation in Punjab where the government is faced with severe opposition from various quarters, the CM does not want to give protesters another reason to take to the streets.
A host of farmer bodies who have been in a protest mode for almost two months now, demanding higher compensation for the damaged cotton crops and better prices for basmati, have also demanded that the act should not be implemented.
In a statement issued last week, leaders of the Swaraj Lehar said the Act was “an assault on the civil liberties of the people of Punjab by the illegitimate and morally corrupt government of Parkash Singh Badal.”