In a revolutionary move towards accountability, the Law Commission advocates a paradigm shift in public property offenses suggesting that securing bail should hinge on depositing damages. The Commission’s report responding to the inadequacies of the 1984 law in preventing public property destruction calls for a rebuttable presumption against accused individuals. Abetment of mischief during demonstrations may hold organizational office bearers accountable with penalties mirrored to the abetted offence. The definition of fines, recording special reasons for lighter sentences and mandatory videography during potential damage events are also proposed. A stringent condition for bail involves depositing an amount equivalent to the damaged property’s estimated value.
The Commission urges the legal fraternity to recognize and address prolonged obstructions of public property advocating the need for robust legislation to deter such actions causing public inconvenience. As the legal landscape evolves to meet contemporary challenges, these recommendations offer a proactive and comprehensive approach to safeguarding public resources. Now, let’s delve into the details of this trailblazing report poised to redefine how we address offences against the public good.
- The Supreme Court initially established two Committees to address the issue of public property destruction. Following their reports, the Court implemented immediate guidelines.
- In 2015, the government proposed the Prevention of Damage to Public Property (Amendment) Bill to modify the 1984 law but it wasn’t enacted.
- Given the persistent instances of vandalism causing substantial state losses, the Law Commission suo-moto took proactive steps to compile the current Report.
- The Report underscores the failure of the 1984 law to achieve its intended purpose as public property destruction continued resulting in significant financial losses and inconvenience to the general public.
The Report is compiled and endorsed by a distinguished 8-member panel led by Chairperson Ritu Raj Awasthi, former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court. This panel includes:
- Ritu Raj Awasthi, Chairperson
- Justice KT Sankaran, Member
- (Dr.) Anand Paliwal, Member
- DP Verma, Member
- Niten Chandra, Member (ex-officio)
- Rajiv Mani, Member (ex-officio)
- M Karunanithi, Part-time Member
- (Dr.) Raka Arya, Part-time Member
The Commission puts forth the following recommendations:
- Presumption Against Accused: A rebuttable presumption shall be established against an individual accused of public property damage if it is demonstrated that the property was harmed directly due to the offense and the accused actively participated in the commission of the offense.
- Prosecution for Abetment of Mischief: In cases where public property is damaged during demonstrations, hartals or bandhs organized by any group, the office bearers of the organization shall be deemed guilty for abetting the offense and subjected to appropriate penalties. An office bearer however can avail protection by proving a lack of knowledge or demonstrating due diligence in attempting to prevent the activity.
- Punishment for Abetment: The punishment for abetment should mirror that of the abetted offense.
- Definition of Fine: Fine should be explicitly defined for legal purposes encompassing an amount equivalent to the market value of the damaged public property. If monetary assessment is unfeasible, the court may determine the amount based on the circumstances.
- Special Reasons for Lesser Punishment: If a court imposes a prison term of less than 6 months for damaging public property, it must provide “special” reasons not arbitrary ones.
- Videography of Demonstrations: When forewarned of potential public property damage, the officer-in-charge of the relevant police station should arrange for videography of the area.
- Bail: Before releasing an accused or convicted person for damaging public property on bail, the court should ensure reasonable grounds for innocence. One bail condition should be the deposit of an amount equivalent to the estimated value of the damaged property.
The Report acknowledges the 1984 law’s inadequacy in addressing prolonged obstructions of public property. It noted that only some states have provisions for such obstructions on public pathways and even then the prescribed penalty is insufficient. Proposing a separate law or amendments to the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita to combat prolonged obstructions causing inconvenience, the Commission emphasizes the need for legislation to address protests causing hardship in public spaces and roads.
In conclusion, the Law Commission’s recommendations present a groundbreaking paradigm shift in the legal approach to offenses against public property. By proposing a direct link between bail and the deposit of damages, the Commission introduces a powerful tool for accountability aiming to deter vandals and protect public assets. The presumption against accused individuals, penalties for abetment and the definition of fines add layers of precision to the legal framework. The call for videography during potential damage events underscores a proactive stance toward’ prevention.
The Commission’s comprehensive and forward-looking approach acknowledges the evolving challenges in safeguarding public property. As the legal landscape adapts to the contemporary context, these recommendations offer a robust foundation for addressing the persistent issue of vandalism ensuring that those responsible bear the immediate consequences of their actions. The ball is now in the court of legislators and policymakers to translate these suggestions into a resilient legal framework that upholds justice and protects public resources.
This article is written and submitted by Sanskar during his course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Sanskar is a 5th year BBA. LL.B student at Geeta Institute of Law.