Amendments In Property Damage Act

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Certainly, the government has a hard task at hand, but it should be capacitated to take up the challenge in a well thought out way to discourage disruptive protesters without affecting the right to protest which is necessary for an animated, vigorous and responsive democracy.


Last week a significant development took place in Jammu and Kashmir after Governor NN Vohra passed a promulgate with some amendments in the ordinance passed by Jammu and Kashmir government with certain amendments as “The Jammu and Kashmir Public Property (Prevention of Damage) Ordinance 2017.”

The act was thoroughly discussed in the cabinet before it was sent to the Governor for ascent.

The amendment to the existing law has been made to implement the directions given by the Supreme Court in the case titled “In Re-Destruction of Public and Private Properties vs. State of A.P and others (2009)”. This Ordinance has been enacted to achieve the following twin objectives:

 (i) To make mischief to public and private property due to direct action punishable; and

(ii) To make any person calling for direct action liable for abetment of such offence.  Consequently, whoever announces direct action in the form of strikes, demonstrations, or other public forms of protests which result in damage to public as well as private property can be punished with imprisonment for a period of 2-5 years and can be imposed a fine equivalent to the market value of the property damaged or destroyed.

In case of default in payment of fine, the imprisonment for a further period of six months will be awarded. Further, the scope of the existing law which was earlier restricted to public property, i.e. primarily Govt. property or property owned by Govt. entities, has been enlarged to also include private property. These certainly are rigorous amendments and much needed in view of the lawlessness that had submerged parts of the valley during summer unrest in Kashmir.

The law, however, was criticized by the separatists. According to them, the state ordinance that makes persons calling for strikes or protest demonstrations, which lead to damage of public property, liable for imprisonment and fine is “outrageous and dictatorial”.

The criticism came from the senior separatist leaders including, Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Mohammad Yasin Malik, who have formed the Joint Resistance Leadership (JRL) in the valley to spearhead the resistance campaign after the killing of top militant commander Burhan Wani in July last year.

Going by the situation in Kashmir, where the protests are marred with violence and destruction, certain laws like the Public Safety Act (PSA) can always remain at the forefront. The protesters in Kashmir often resort to violence and damaging the public and private property like schools, shops, vehicles etc. However, the existing laws were not stringent enough to deal with the accused firmly. Most of the times, the authorities would slap them with PSA, which off late became very controversial.

The police was often accused of misusing the act, although, hundreds of protesters and stone pelters were booked under it. People at times accused the authorities of misusing the act and arresting people on basis of settling personal vendetta.

However, the new law may bring the desired change, according to which, the protesters and those who resort to damage of properties may be booked under the relevant acts. So far Kashmir has suffered innumerable damage to its public and private property, especially during the volatile situations. 

Hundreds of infrastructures were razed to ground and thousands of vehicles are seeing damaged during the protests for violating separatist shutdown calls. The police, however, needs to be extra cautious in using the same law in an order to avoid the public criticism. 

The proposed amendment of the Act has also stimulated fear of misuse against political opponents or activists raising voice against unjust actions of the government since it will enable criminal prosecution of leaders for their role in destruction of property.

There is no doubt that the amendment of the act will lead to stringent laws and would make it easier to fix criminal charges on the front-runners organizing protests which turn intense, however, the manner in which the government pursues to deal with the problem might threaten the right to protest.

Certainly, the government has a hard task at hand, but it should be capacitated to take up the challenge in a well thought out way to discourage disruptive protesters without affecting the right to protest which is necessary for an animated, vigorous and responsive democracy.

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