Given how political leaders, during a bandh or a hartal or even riots, often egg on their cadres and followers who then indulge in acts of vandalism, it is not surprising that the Supreme Court, in 2007, called for the amendment of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property (PDPP) Act. And, in 2009, while appointing a committee to look into this, it said “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”. That is why various changes were proposed in the law, and one such was the “abetment of mischief” one which penalised the leadership/office-bearers of an outfit spearheading the hartal/riot.
As with all laws, there is a possibility of misuse and, according to a news report in The Indian Express, the government is mulling dropping this clause on grounds it could become a tool for harassing political opponents by the ruling party. This is certainly a possibility and needs to be guarded against—dropping the clause serves no purpose; indeed, according to data from the NCRB, of the 5,840 cases filed under the PDPP Act in 2014, 5,018 were pending at the end of the year and only 192 saw convictions.
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A good way to ensure there is no victimisation, is the inclusion of another provision that allows investigating officers and magistrate to examine the evidence and take a call on the culpability of the leaders/office-bearers—the latter can get relief if they can successfully convince the former that the vandalism was committed “without their knowledge” and they had exercised “due diligence” to prevent it.
It is true this clause can be used to victimise the opposition and give enough wiggle room to the ruling political class, but if the reports of investigating officers/magistrates are made public, this would take away a lot of the subjectivity as they could be contested in courts.