Make protestors pay for damaging public property
Pushpa Girimaji

THE stark visuals (on television) of lathi-wielding and rampaging Gujjars destroying public property were enough to send shock waves around the country. Delhi Transport Corporation buses were burnt , streetlights were destroyed, but what made one really wince was the way they went around damaging what looked like a brand new air-conditioned coach of the Indian Railways.

The cost of each of these coaches, buses and streetlights that they destroyed was paid for by consumers, either through taxes or through the tickets that they purchased for travel. And it is again the consumers who will have to bear the burden of this loss. Why should law-abiding consumers pay for the consequences of lawlessness?

I am not commenting on the issue of Gujjars’ demand. Everybody has the right to hold dharnas, agitate , to focus attention on their demands. But that right does not include the right to resort to violence, to destroy public or even private property. According to one estimate, Rs 700 crore worth of property—both private and public—has been destroyed during the week-long agitation. The agitation also resulted in the death of over 30 people and injuries to scores. It’s no wonder that the highest law court in the country took suo motu notice of the vandalism of public property and directed the police chiefs of all the states which witnessed such rampaging to book the guilty.

As consumers, we also need to express our displeasure over what happened during the week-long agitation. Or else, this may well become a pattern.

If we do not identify those who were responsible for the destruction of property and penalise them, then others may well be tempted to take to the path of violence. And consumers will be the ultimate sufferers. When I say book the guilty and penalise them, I am not suggesting that they be sent to jail. Not at all. I only want them to pay for what they have destroyed. This should be the single demand of consumers. Or else, as consumers we will all end up paying for the loss inflicted by others.

In this age of television, it is not difficult to identify those who were responsible for the destruction of property. The government, the local administration and the police should together make the effort, assess the loss and recover the amount from them. In future, nobody should be allowed to get away with destroying public property. If individuals cannot be identified, then the agitating group as a whole should pay for the consequences of their violence. By forcing them to pay compensation for the losses suffered by public sector undertakings like the Railways and the DTC, the administration will send home a clear signal that in future it will not condone such forms of agitation. Hold a peaceful dharna by all means, express your anger and anguish if you feel that you should get a better deal.

After all, the entire reservation system is meant to provide those who have been oppressed for generations get better opportunities. But violence and destruction of property is a no-no. And that message has to go home to every citizen in this country.

And who is better than the consumer to put pressure on the administration to do this? Today the consumer movement is stronger, the number of consumer groups across the country exceeds 2,500. If they are to make an impact, make their presence felt, they must come out strongly on issues such as this.

They will have the support of the judiciary, the media. On the other hand, if they fail to take up these kind of issues, they will become irrelevant.