After what happened to traders in Kozhikode during the January 3 hartal, the LDF government's decision to issue an ordinance to punish antisocials destroying private property should have come as a huge relief.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, while announcing on January 7 that the ordinance would soon be promulgated, said there would be no compromise on vandalism.
Few posers to the chief minister
But sir, what about the destruction of property inside the very sanctum sanctorum of democracy. Some of your men had gone on a rampage on the day of the Budget on March 13, 2015.
It was just a few days ago, on February 23, you had stepped down as CPM state secretary. So, you would have been aware. The plan was to prevent K M Mani, whom the LDF had accused of selling the Budget, from entering the House. But Mani not only did enter, he also read out a few lines from his Budget speech. Outfoxed, your men ran riot.
Had it not been the assembly, some of the sights would have looked hilarious. CPM MLA V Sivankutty running over the chairs and desks like a schoolkid having the time of his life inside a classroom on a day the teacher was absent, and E P Jayarajan pushing down the Kerala Speaker's chair as if he was the leader of a group paid by a bank to forcefully vacate the house of a loan defaulter. It is another matter that when the LDF returned to power with you as chief minister, attempts were made to woo Mani to your side.
That's beside the point. What is of relevance is this: Assembly property – chairs, computers, mikes – worth Rs 2.20 lakh was destroyed. Has the LDF government, which has now prescribed life imprisonment for property destruction, brought its rampaging MLAs to book? At the very least, has the state government made them pay for the damages? Forget compensation, there was not even the mildest of censures. What's more, your government has moved the High Court seeking the withdrawal of the cases.
Mockery of rule of law
Six LDF legislators of the 13th Kerala Assembly (CPM's E P Jayarajan, V Sivankutty, C K Sadasivan and K Kunjahmed Master, CPI's K Ajith and Left independent K T Jaleel) were slapped with criminal charges under Section 3(1) of the Prevention of Destruction of Public Property (PDPP) Act. Sivankutty, C K Sadasivan, K Kunjahmed Master and K Ajith are no more MLAs, and E P Jayarajan and K T Jaleel are now ministers.
They have not even secured bail in the case and are still walking free. It is tough to secure bail under the PDPP Act. The accused will have to furnish an amount equal to the value of the properties damaged to secure bail. In the case of the MLAs, each had to submit a bank guarantee of Rs 2.20 lakh.
None of the accused MLAs appeared for any of the hearings. As many as 14 hearings were held in the additional chief judicial magistrate special court for cases related to MPs and MLAs. “There is a charge-sheet against them but they have not bothered to appear before the court even once. The court, too, has not made an effort to summon them,” said M T Thomas, who, along with Peter Njalipparambil, has moved the court against the withdrawal of cases. Both of them are activists of National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI).
“Had it been a common man against whom the same kind of charges were slapped he would have been arrested long before,” Thomas said. Under the PDPP Act, those found guilty can be imprisoned for up to five years.
LDF government's private property
The state government, through its affidavit in the court, had put forward a strange argument. It said the losses suffered were the government's alone and no one else, therefore, need not bother.
“The very sovereign government itself has consented to withdraw from the prosecution in the case,” the government submission said. As if the assembly was the LDF's private property. Former IPS officer Ajit Joy, who appeared for the petitioners, said the money belonged to the tax payer and not the government, which was just the custodian.
The government also latched on to technicalities. It argued that the video recording of the riotous scenes inside the assembly were copied from the electronic control room of the Legislative Assembly without the sanction of the speaker. “Copying from the server without the sanction of the Honourable Speaker is an act without proper authority,” the affidavit said, challenging the admissibility of the evidence.
The LDF leaders Onmanorama attempted to talk to were not willing to comment on the issue. Some said legislators had certain privileges and could not be equated with rioters in the streets. The chief minister, too, had invoked the “privilege of legislators” to justify his government’s decision to withdraw the criminal case against the accused. “The move to withdraw the case is related to the privileges of the members. The decision has to be taken by the Legislature itself,” Pinarayi had said in the Assembly in March 2018.
He argued that there was nothing improper in withdrawing the case with the permission of the court.
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