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Prevent Damage to Public Property during Agitations 

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By Dr AK Srivastava

Our beloved nation achieved Independence after a marathon struggle of hundreds of years. We all know that thousands of freedom fighters sacrificed their precious lives so that we may relish the taste of freedom. They died so that we could live. However, their dreams and aspirations, expectations from fellow citizens after independence are yet to be accomplished. We have ‘miles to go’ before claiming that we have understood the meaning and value of freedom. We have to educate the people to understand the difference between ‘Freedom’ and ‘Emancipation’.

The population explosion has caused problems in almost all walks of life. The governments could not provide quality education to the masses. The natural love and deep sense of belonging for the Nation; the idea that all movable and immovable property of the Nation is public property has not impressed the mindset of the masses. People fail to understand that public property does not belong to the government. It belongs to us. It is our money that is used in making these public properties.

In the last few years, our country has suffered enormous loss during agitations. The annual budgets of many small countries are less than the money washed out in such agitations in our country. Misguided and ignorant people misinterpret Government schemes and persuade the common person to act in erratic and unpredictable fashion. Common sense is not common when mass psychology hampers the good sense of young citizens. The crowd turns unruly and starts burning buses and trains. Throwing stones on government buildings, schools, post offices, damaging highways and roads, reflect bankruptcy of mind. Even the police or security personnel find it challenging to stop this type of autocratic behavior of irresponsible and politically motivated people. Sometimes ordinary people, who have nothing to do with the agitation, get trapped in stampedes. Unidentified bodies are seen lying unattended. Such type of primitive and imprudent public outrage is shown in international media causing stigma and shame for the Nation.

The government and other responsible agencies should create awareness and educate people. The leaders should try to instill a sense of responsibility in public. The opposition parties have a very important role to play. All problems can be sorted out through discussions and debates. When the agitations are sponsored by political parties, it should be made clear that whatever may happen, the activists would not turn violent and aggressive. The rallies or agitations should have a mission or purpose. No one sets their own house on fire in an agitated state of mind. There are many civilised and more powerful ways to attract the attention or authorities. For example, once upon a time, there was no hike in salary in a shoe company in Japan. The workers were in trouble but the management refused to yield. The worker decided that they would make the shoes of left feet only. They stopped making shoes for the right feet. The management had to increase their salaries. Then they made shoes for the right feet. This way, they forced the management to increase their salaries and production of shoes in the company was also not hampered.

In a democratic set up, there can be a discussion on the validity or purpose of the agitation. The agitation may or may not be in public interest. But destruction of public property cannot be justified by any stretch of the imagination. We have to change ourselves before we change the Nation.

The Government passed an act known as “Prevention of Damage to Public Property” on 28 January, 1984. According to this act, causing damage to any movable and immovable property owned by or under the control Central Government or State Government is punishable by the court. This punishment includes six months rigorous jail and fine. The imprisonment may be extended to five years. Under this Act, a public property includes “any building, installation or other property used in connection with the production, distribution or supply of water, light, power or energy; any oil installation; any sewage works; any mine or factory; any means of public transportation or telecommunications, or any building, installation or other property used in connection therewith”.

In 2009, the apex court issued a new guide line in this connection.

“Where persons, whether jointly or otherwise, are part of a protest which turns violent, results in damage to private or public property, the persons who have caused the damage, or were part of the protest or who have organised it will be deemed to be strictly liable for the damage so caused, which may be assessed by the ordinary courts or by any special procedure created to enforce the right,” the court said, according to a report.

The SC also ordered High Courts to set up a machinery to investigate the damage caused and award compensation wherever mass destruction of property takes place because of protests.

In more recent times, we have seen how the Governments of some states, especially of UP, have dealt with this problem. We may or may not appreciate or agree with such mode of punishment. But we must raise our concern. We are still in the ‘third world’ or the tag of ‘developing’ nation is still bothering our policy makers. No patriot can welcome such type of indiscriminate behaviour of the public. Our behaviour and action should show our love, commitment and sincerity towards our Nation. Our freedom struggle is considered to be one of the biggest struggles for freedom and nation building. Mahatma Gandhi -“Father of the Nation” – never took the path of violence in the entire freedom movement. So, we can solve all our problems by non-violent and more civilised methods.

(Dr AK Srivastava is Principal, DAV Intermediate College, Dehradun)