Draconian laws aimed at crushing popular protests
The Haryana Legislative Assembly passed a bill on March 18, 2021, to recover damages from protestors for property destroyed during protests. The Bill was passed inspite of objections from members of Opposition parties.
The Recovery of Damages to Property during Disturbance to Public Order Bill, 2021 allows the state authorities to demand “recovery of damages to properties, private and public, caused by persons during agitations, including riots and violent disorder”.
The Bill provides for the setting up of a Claims Tribunal to assess the damages caused and the person responsible, making that person liable to compensate for it. According to the Bill, all proceedings of the Claims Tribunal will be treated as judicial proceedings. The Claims Tribunal shall also have the right to proceed ex-parte against any person who fails to appear before it despite summons issued to them.
The Bill gives the collector the power to attach the property or bank account of any person against whom an award has been passed by the tribunal. Further, no civil court will be allowed to entertain any question or issue any injunction relating to any claim for compensation made under this law.
The Bill has been passed at a time when lakhs of kisans from the state have been peacefully protesting for more than 3 months now, along with kisans of Punjab and other states, at the borders of Delhi. They are demanding that the anti-kisan laws should be repealed and the state should guarantee procurement of all crops at remunerative prices. The Haryana government, in collaboration with the central government, dug trenches, planted sharp spikes and built barbed wire barricades at the protest sites at the borders of Delhi, in order to crush the protests. In the face of all this, the kisans are continuing their protest undaunted.
The real aim of the Bill was revealed in the words of the Chief Minister of Haryana himself, during the passage of the Bill in the Assembly. Justifying the Bill, he said it was necessary to “instill fear” in the minds of those protesting against the anti-people measures of the state.
In a similar manner, the Uttar Pradesh Assembly had also passed a bill on March 2, 2021, regarding recovery of damages to public and private properties from protesters, riding rough-shod over the parliamentary opposition.
According to the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Bill, 2021, protesters found guilty of damaging government or private properties will face imprisonment of one year or a fine ranging from ₹5,000 to ₹1 lakh. The UP Assembly at the same time also passed the Uttar Pradesh Goonda Control (Amendment) Bill, 2021 which gives powers to joint and deputy commissioners of police to declare all forms of protest as “criminal”.
It may be recalled that in March 2020, the Uttar Pradesh cabinet had approved the “UP Recovery of Damage to Public Properties Ordinance, 2020” in the name of “recovery of losses due to damage to government and private properties during political processions”. This was done during the anti-CAA protests in which lakhs of women and youth had come forward to oppose the government’s attempts to discriminate among people on the basis of religion and to spread communal violence and hatred. Peaceful protest actions, involving thousands of women and youth, were held in Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh, Kanpur and in many cities across the country. The same ordinance has now become law.
The UP government had preceded the ordinance with brutal attacks on the protestors. The state authorities had organised provocations, anarchy and violence, in an attempt to discredit the peaceful protestors. Threats and warnings were issued to youth and students and attempts were made by the state government to name and shame individual protestors by putting up their photographs on street-hoardings.
Both these Bills starkly reveal the thoroughly undemocratic and anti-people nature of the political system and process in India, which serves the interests of the biggest monopoly capitalists. The government is assigned the task of crushing all resistance to the rule of the monopoly corporate houses. Apart from the draconian UAPA, there are already numerous laws to criminalise and punish popular protests, in the name of “public safety”, etc. These laws are the latest to have been added to the arsenal of the state authorities to terrorise all those who stand for justice and in defence of the rights of the workers, peasants, women and youth.
It is a well-known fact that the state and its agencies themselves organize provocations and spread anarchy and violence in order to discredit the struggles of people and to justify repression on the protestors. They regularly brand all forms of protest as “seditious” and “anti-national” and a “threat to the unity and integrity of India”, to justify crushing them with the utmost bestiality.
These Bills are reminiscent of the cruel British colonial method of imposing collective penalty on entire villages and communities in the name of “destruction of property”, for daring to stand up against the injustice of the colonial rulers. They show once again, that the present day Indian state, just like its predecessor the British colonial state, treats our own people as criminals. This state defends the rule of the biggest monopoly corporate houses by criminalizing all forms of protest and dissent and thus brutally suppressing the workers, peasants, women and youth who are uniting and coming out on the streets in defence of their rights.