In a ruling that can serve as a deterrent for violent protesters, the Bombay High Court Friday ordered a former Shiv Sena legislator to cough up Rs.500,000 (Rs.5 lakh) for the damage caused to a hotel during an agitation by party activists last year.
A division bench of Justice Ranjana Desai and Justice Mridula Bhatkar directed Sitaram Dalvi to deposit the amount with the court by Monday.
A high-ranking Sena office-bearer, when contacted after the high court ruling, declined to comment over the order but indicated the party was behind Dalvi and they would seek further legal recourse if necessary.
Dalvi and 500 other activists had ransacked Hotel Sahar Intercontinental in Andheri east in January 2009 over some labour-related disputes and the sacking of 21 employees by the hotel management.
“The question is not of money but of what signal should go to the people. This kind of damage to properties, burning of buses and trains must be banned,” Justice Desai observed.
Earlier, Dalvi had been ordered by the district collector to shell out Rs.7.88 lakh for damage to the hotel. He complied by depositing Rs.two lakh and challenged the collector’s order in the high court.
The court today rejected a plea by Dalvi’s lawyer S. S. Kulkarni seeking more time to deposit the balance amount of Rs.5.88 lakh.
They said that though holding sit-ins, protests and other forms of agitation were constitutional rights, destruction of public or private property was not allowed. In this context, the bench cited a Supreme Court ruling of last year which laid down guidelines for recovering such damages from the organisers of agitations.
Dalvi (65), in his application before the court seeking exemption from paying up the amount, said that the government should recover the damages from his party and party leaders, including Sena chief Bal Thackeray.
“It is a vicarious liability, you cannot foist it on me. The court should also call Bal Thackery or any other party leader,” he maintained.
His lawyer Kulkarni also argued that since 45 persons were booked for that agitation, Dalvi should not be singled out for the damages, and said that the morcha was led by Sena Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut.
To this the judges pointed out that Dalvi had written on the party’s letterhead that he would be leading the morcha and told Kulkarni “don’t tell us what to do”.
“We are not concerned whether it is Shiv Sena, Congress, Communist Party or any other party. You just cannot go and destroy properties for your agitation. A message must be sent that people cannot go on burning buses and destroy public properties,” the bench observed.
The state government has adopted a tough stand vis-a-vis agitations leading to damage of public and private properties.
Last year, it made an amendment to the Bombay Police Act and armed it with powers to recover the damages from the political parties concerned.
It also recovered Rs.57,000 from the student wing of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) for vandalizing the office of the Mumbai University registrar in January 2009.
In 2006, the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had to shell out Rs.20 lakh (Rs.2 million) each for organising a shutdown in Mumbai in the wake of a terror attack after a petition was moved by an NGO, AGNI. They deposited the amount with the court and challenged the order in the Supreme Court