A 12-year-old boy in Madhya Pradesh has received a notice to pay a compensation of Rs 2.9 lakh for damages during the violence in Khargone during Ram Navami. The boy’s mother said he has been traumatised since and fears that he would be arrested. His father Kalu Khan, a labourer, has been asked to pay Rs 4.8 lakh by the Claims Tribunal. The family’s neighbours have issued the demand under a new law.
The Madhya Pradesh Prevention and Recovery of Damages to Public Property Act law was passed in December last year, in imitation of another BJP-ruled state, Uttar Pradesh. The law enables recovery of compensation for willful damage to public and private property during strikes, protests and group clashes.
There have been claims that the law in Uttar Pradesh has been misused in some instances.
The Tribunal has received 343 complaints after Ram Navami, of which it accepted only 34. So far, it has settled six claims—four by Hindus and two by Muslims. Around Rs 7.46 lakh have been recovered from 50 people.
The complainant in the boy’s case, a woman, had claimed that her property was damaged when a mob went on the rampage during a Ram Navami procession on April 10.
The notice sent to the boy clearly mentions he is 12 years old and holds him responsible for damages to the tune of Rs 2.9 lakh. The neighbours claim that he robbed and vandalised their home. Besides the boy and his father, notices have been sent to six others, who are adults.
“My son is a minor. We were sleeping when the riots happened. We want justice,” said Kalu Khan. His wife Ranu said her son is “constantly under fear that the police will arrest him.”
The family had filed an appeal before the Indore bench of Madhya Pradesh high court, seeking that the notice be scrapped. But on September 12, the court dismissed the petition, saying any objections should be filed with the Tribunal. The “If the objection is filed, the same shall be considered and decided by the tribunal in accordance with the law,” the order read.
The family’s advocate Ashhar Ali Warsi told NDTV that the Tribunal had acted “arbitrarily without applying the essentials of law”.
“The definition of the act has a clear interpretation — that the whole act is depended upon the criminal status based upon Indian Penal Code and while the boy filed his objection before the Tribunal, it was rejected on vague grounds of civil procedure,” he said.
Also, while the Tribunal said this was a civil recovery, “it is strange because the act is following criminal procedure, claims are being awarded,” he said.
In this context, he added that the Act “does not have a clear definition on whether it will be governed under Civil law or Criminal Law”.
“The recoveries ought to be made within this act in question is criminal in nature. The tribunal has issued notice without any serious investigation pertaining to the role of the boy. The claims tribunal is fining those not yet pronounced guilty,” he added.
People connected to the tribunal disagreed. “The tribunal is dealing with cases of civil nature. If it was a criminal case, the child would have got the protection of Juvenile Justice Act,” an official said. “This is about the fine. The money will be recovered from his parents as they are responsible for him,” he added.
Under the new law, if compensation is not paid within 15 days, the accused has to pay a 6 per cent interest and compensate the affected party in the process of the application. The tribunal has been vested with the powers similar to a civil court and must decide on the claims within three months. The law allows it to seize assets of the accused if they cannot pay compensation.
“The tribunal is acting like the extended wing of BJP. How can they issue notice to a 12-year-old,” said Congress spokesperson KK Mishra.
BJP spokesperson Neha Bagga, however, said: “If this child is found involved in vandalising property, then he has been given notice under civil law. They can send reply using legal provisions. The Congress has a habit of standing by an accused.”