Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thomas Committee on damage to public property

Justice Thomas Committee on damage to public property, which is due to submit its report to the Supreme Court on the 31st of August, 2008, was instituted lasy year in the aftermath of the violence during the Gujjar agitation. The Home Ministry website has a document giving brief information on the committee,but it is not clear whether it has invited suggestions from the public. Its main task is to suggest amendments to the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984.

I personally think that a civil liability rather than a criminal one is more effective in such cases of mass violence for the following reasons:
- a lower burden of proof requiring 'balance of probabilities' is easier to satisfy
- it makes sense to demand compensation and punitive damages from the perpetrators
- it is fairer to make the leadership/party that organises the violent movement vicariously liable in a civil case rather than a criminal one. criminal liability only gets the foot-soldiers, while the big fish escape
- when asked to pay damages, these leaders cannot claim martyrdom that they do when convicted in a criminal case
- of course, in cases of gross violations involving murders, civil liability can be fixed in addition to criminal liability
- of course, the civil liability has to be heavy enough to hurt, to make this work. and an institutional mechanism that can deliver speedily enough will be needed (that perennial problem in the Indian legal system)

I made a similar argument in the context of the Gujarat riots here.
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