The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Haryana government passed by voice vote a Bill to recover damages to public and private properties from protestors, during the Budget session of the state Assembly on Thursday, the Hindustan Times reported.

The Haryana Recovery of Damages to Property during Disturbance to Public Order Bill, 2021, was cleared amid strong protests from the Opposition. Congress MLAs assembled in the well of the House, shouted slogans and waved copies of the Bill in protest.

On March 16, when Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij had tabled the Bill, opposition leaders had staged a walkout, according to The Indian Express. The Congress had demanded division of votes on introduction of the Bill. When the Speaker refused, party members stormed out of the Assembly.

Senior Congress member RS Kadian had questioned the timing of the Bill as it came amid the ongoing farmers’ agitation against the new agricultural laws. He accused the government of “rubbing salt on wounds” of the protesting farmers, many of whom are from Haryana. “It is something similar to the three central farm laws and it has been brought in such a situation that it raises suspicion,” Kadian added. “The word instigator used in the Bill strengthens our view that it is a vindictive piece of legislation in the offing. Withhold this Bill and refer it to a select committee.”

Leader of Opposition Bhupinder Singh Hooda, too, had raised questions about the need for the legislation, saying it was being introduced “in a haste”. “First we should identify those who were responsible for digging up roads to stop farmers from reaching Delhi’s borders,” Hooda had said.

Vij, in turn, alleged that Opposition members were “trying to mislead people”. The BJP leader asked the Congress to clarify whether it supported “rioters, destruction of public and private properties”, and the burning of buses. “If not, why were they opposing the Bill then?” Vij had asked.

“We are not against a peaceful protest,” he added. “We are not bringing this Bill against peaceful protests. But it only caters to the damage caused to properties.”

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The minister claimed that the enactment of the law was on the agenda of the government “well before” the farmers’ protest. “Should we allow people’s homes to burn?” he said. “Are you with the rioters or against them? This Bill has been brought on public demand.”

Chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar had also defended the legislation, arguing that protecting property was the duty of the state government, according to the Hindustan Times.

What does the Bill say

The Haryana Recovery of Damages to Property Bill defines “damages” as “loss, injury or deterioration caused by any act or omission by any person to property of central government or state government or another person during disturbance to public order”, according to The Indian Express.

“Property” includes “immovable and movable properties of all kinds, including vehicles, livestock, jewellery, goods and such like properties whose minimum value is one thousand rupees”.

The Bill provides for the setting up of a Claims Tribunal to assess the damages caused, and to determine who caused it, making that person liable to compensate for it. It gives the collector the power to issue an order of attachment of property or bank account of any person against whom an award has been passed by the tribunal, the newspaper reported.

Further, the bill disallows any civil court to entertain any question relating to the claim for the compensation, and “no injunction shall be granted by any civil court in respect of anything which is done or intended to be done by or under this Act”.

All proceedings of the Claims Tribunal shall be deemed to be judicial proceedings. The Claims Tribunal shall also have the right to proceed ex-parte against any person who fails to appear before it despite the summons issued to them, according to the legislation.