Destruction of public property:What the law says, what Supreme Court directed

3 min read

News:Recently,the Supreme Court has expressed displeasure over rioting and destruction of public property while hearing petitions on alleged police excesses on students in Jamia Millia Islamia.

Facts:

About Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act,1984: 

  • The Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act,1984 punishes anyone who commits mischief by doing any act in respect of any public property with a jail term of up to five years and a fine or both.
  • Public property under this Act includes any property used in connection with the production, distribution or supply of water, light, power or energy or any means of public transportation or of telecommunications or other property used in connection therewith.
  • However,despite a law against the destruction of property, incidents of rioting, vandalism, and arson have been common during protests across the country. 
  • This is because the identification of protesters remains difficult, especially in cases where there is no leader who gave the call to protest.

Supreme Court Guidelines:

In 2009, in the Destruction of Public & Private Properties v State of AP and Ors, the Supreme Court has issued guidelines based on the recommendations of the two expert Committees.

Thomas Committee:

  • The Thomas Committee had recommended reversing the burden of proof against protesters.
  • The apex court accepted the recommendation and said that the law must be amended to give the court the power to draw a presumption that the accused is guilty of destroying public property and it would then be open to the accused to rebut such presumption.

Nariman Committee:

  • The Nariman Committee recommendations were with respect to extracting damages for destruction. 
  • The court accepted the recommendations and said that the rioters would be made strictly liable for the damage and compensation should be collected to make good the damage.
  • In 2017,the Punjab and Haryana High Court had ruled to recover the damages from the Dera whose followers were involved in vandalism of Public property.