In order to exclude political leaders from the provision that hold them responsible for damaging public properties, the Union Home Ministry is reportedly reworking the proposed Prevention of Destruction of Public Property (PDPP) Amendment Bill. According to a report by Indian Express, the ministry had in 2015, argued for severe measures to be put in place to hold leaders accountable for damage to public property caused during strikes, protests and demonstrations called by them. It also stressed political parties to pay the market value of the property destroyed by them or their party workers.
Speaking to Indian Express, government sources said that reworking on the proposal started following suggestions made during consultations with various states. The move was also reworked keeping in mind the fear of enforcement agencies that the amended law may be misused to frame Opposition leaders who call for bhands, by inciting violence and damaging public properties. “They are aware that by doing this, they may be able to send their political opponents behind bars,” said an official.
It is also expected that the Home Ministry would bring some other changes in the Bill’s language in order to make it clear to the leaders to exercise ‘due diligence’ to avoid damage to public properties. “We plan to emphasise on improving the quality of evidence, which will require police officers to record on video all protests, hartal or bandhs,” said an official. The soft copies of video evidence will be deposited by the officer in charge at the local police station with the sub-divisional magistrate or executive magistrate who will hand it over to the investigating officer, the report further quoted officials saying.
The Supreme Court, in 2007, had asked the government to bring amendments to the PDPP Act. The apex court appointed a committee to examine the law and had observed in 2009: “In almost all such cases, top leaders of such organisations who really instigate such direct actions will keep themselves in the background, and only the ordinary or common members or grassroot-level followers directly participate, and they alone would be vulnerable to prosecution proceedings.”
The report further stated that the Bill may also make such offences a non-bailable act until and unless there are reasonable grounds to prove that the accused is not guilty. However, the reworked Bill might not have ‘damage to private property’ provision as they are covered under various insurance schemes.