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Country can’t be held to ransom during agitations: Apex Court

Country can’t be held to ransom during agitations: Apex Court
Expressing concern over damage to public and private properties during violent protests, the Supreme Court on Wednesday said it would lay down ‘parameters’ to fix accountability for losses on organisers as the country cannot be held to ‘ransom.’

“The country must know what are the consequences. No one can take the country to ransom during agitations. Whether it is BJP, Congress or any other organisation, they must realise that they can be held accountable for the damages to public property,” a Bench headed by Justice JS Khehar said.

The observation, which came during the hearing of a plea of Gujarat Pattidar leader Hardik Patel, assumes significance in the wake of large-scale violence and loss of public and private properties in Haryana during the Jat quota stir. The Bench, also comprising Justice C Nagappan, said that irrespective of organisation, the organisers of such violent protests would be made accountable for the damages.

“Where is our country going? You just cannot burn the country’s or its citizens’ properties. Whether it’s BJP or Congress or whichever organisation or party it is, it may be asked to pay for the property damaged. They will collect the money and pay for the damages,” the Bench said.

It said, “We must take a call on the issue and we would frame guidelines for taking action against people indulging in such acts.” 

The Bench said it will lay down parameters for fixing the accountabilities for the damage caused to the public and private properties during agitations.

The Bench was hearing a plea of Patel seeking quashing of sedition charges and FIR lodged against him.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi appearing for Gujarat government said Patel had in his plea challenged the FIR against him but a charge-sheet has already been filed in the case.

“Now after FIR, the charge-sheet has been filed and it cannot be tested in the Supreme Court,” Rohatgi said.

The Bench said that in his prayer the petitioner (Patel) was more concerned about bail and not the charge-sheet.

To this, Rohatgi replied that his bail applications are already pending before the sessions court. The court then said that it has decided to look into the larger issue of damage to public and private properties during agitations and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday. 

The Apex Court had on January 14, asked the AG to assist it on the approach to be adopted in dealing with cases where public property has been damaged in large scale. Earlier, the court had allowed Gujarat Police to file a charge-sheet in the case in which it was alleged that Hardik had instigated community members to kill policemen and adopted violent ways to “wage war against Gujarat government”.

Besides the present case, the Apex Court is also seized of another plea of Hardik challenging the high court’s decision declining to quash the sedition charge invoked against him and others in a case lodged for allegedly attacking places like police stations in the state.

The state police had lodged the case in October against 22-year-old Hardik and five of his close aides on the charge of sedition and waging war against the government.

Later, Hardik, Chirag Patel, Dinesh Bambhaniya and Ketan Patel were arrested and are currently behind bars.

Two other Hardik aides, Amrish Patel and Alpesh Kathiriya, were not arrested as the high court had granted them interim protection.

The high court had ordered the removal of three IPC sections in the FIR –sections 121 (waging war against government), 153-A (promoting enmity between different communities) and 153-B (assertions prejudicial to national integrity) –against Hardik and five of his aides.

It, however, refused to drop IPC sections 124 (sedition) and 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against government), which attract punishment of life imprisonment or up to 10 years.

In his second plea, Hardik has challenged the high court’s decision declining to quash the sedition charge invoked against him and others in a case lodged for allegedly attacking places like police stations in the state.

In his plea, Hardik has claimed that the charges have wrongly been invoked against him as there was no conspiracy to wage war against the government and, at best, it is the case of use of “intemperate language” which can be tried under some other penal provisions.
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