#VinitasPune – When Will Our City See Reason And Stop Burning?

Image used for representation only

Whether it is for protests, revenge-seeking or even getting rid of garbage, Pune witnesses a burning every now and then…

It was the night of 29th July when my phone was busy with calls from young, anxious parents who wanted to confirm whether a ‘Pune bandh’ was called for on 30th. The confusion apparently was an sms from their wards schools saying that attendance was not compulsory on 30th in view of a morcha slated to take place.

Since I wasn’t aware of this, I quickly cross checked with my fraternity who confirmed of a bandh call but had no information of any morcha. It turned out to be an unscheduled holiday for most children since even the school van drivers didn’t want to take a chance with the safety of the children.

30th July was relatively quiet with no aggressive demonstrations, though citizens were commuting with caution. Unfortunately, the Chakan area, (which is on the international map of auto industry), witnessed large scale violence and torching of buses and other vehicles worth a few crore of rupees apparently.

It is this fear of a violent and explosive turn in public protests that has become a matter of grave concern for citizens in the city. Taking precautions at the individual level is the only recourse, despite it being at the expense of economic loss.

Even the Netas will not come in support to citizens who may be affected by these incidents despite what may be portrayed. Often one sees these untoward incidents being condoned by political leaders, almost as though they are in support of these anti-social elements.

I am reminded of an incident involving the Deccan Queen several years ago when this heritage train was torched and the news channels erupted with reports of the train on fire.  

My son-in-law was travelling to Mumbai for a tennis tournament on this very train and our heart sank. Fortunately he called to say he is fine but had to walk 20 kilometres to find alternate transport. Deccan Queen stands mute testimony to the social and cultural heritage of India as is the lifeline for Pune-Mumbai commuters. I was in for a rude shock when the then home minister speaking to the media said that the protestors were merely venting their anger which was natural.

Sure is natural isn’t it? Sickening, but I guess, we have to get used to hearing statements condoning arson and more.. 

All this is despite, the`Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act`in place. A Supreme Court order of November 2017 clearly states that as per the Constitution, it is the right of the people to assemble freely and peacefully protest, but no one has the right to damage public property and indulge in violence which results in loss of of public property and human lives.

It also ordered all state governments to ensure such incidents are monitored. It stated in its order: “Those who fail to maintain peace shall be held accountable and those who suffer must be compensated.

Yet, what has any state or central government done to protect public property and innocent citizens who are mentally and sometime physically tortured by such untoward events?

If this isn’t burning enough, there is another grave concern for the citizens and that is the torching and mysterious burning of vehicles in parking lots of housing societies. In the past 24 months a whopping 350 vehicles have been torched.

A Hindustan Times Report, which carried the analysis and findings of the police stated that, ‘many-a-time, petty reasons like fights between mother and father, prompt teens to set vehicles alight Loss is business and subsequent frustration and petty fights between neighbours living in residential societies were also reported as the major reasons behind vehicle vandalism in the city.

Another bizarre find was that in many vehicle burning cases, the accused were trying to steal petrol from the vehicle’s petrol tanks. Besides these, reasons like group enmity and political rivalry have also emerged as the prime reasons behind vandals setting vehicles on fire.’’

The Pune police has taken this issue seriously and invoked the harsh Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act (MCOCA) and Maharashtra Prevention of Dangerous Activities (MPDA) Act on the culprits but such burnings continue.

The other issue of burning is not related to conventional crime under IPC but it is a grave crime as it dangerously harms the environment.

And that is, burning of garbage which we see in housing societies and footpaths. Recently the National Green Tribunal has come down heavily on this issue. In its order, it directed ‘we specifically direct that there shall be complete prohibition on open burning of waste on lands, including at landfill sites.

For each such incident or default, violators including the project proponent, concessionaire, ULB, any person or body responsible for such burning, shall be liable to pay environmental compensation of Rs. 5,000/- (Rs. Five Thousand only) in case of simple burning, while Rs. 25,000/- (Rs. Twenty Five Thousand only) in case of bulk waste burning.

Environmental compensation shall be recovered as arrears of land revenue by the competent authority in accordance with law.’’

Sure, be fiery with your protests as that’s what alert citizenry is all about –but for God’s sake, stop using fire as your weapon! 

Vinita Deshmukh

Vinita Deshmukh

Passion for the written word that comes alive, not only to tell a story, but to speak out loud about all that's good, bad and the ugly in society...

That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.

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Vinita Deshmukh