15, Mar 2022 | CJP Team
The Uttar Pradesh government continues to harass those accused of participating in anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests in 2019. The state government has initiated fresh proceedings against them for allegedly damaging public property.
Since the state government failed to recover the damages in its previous attempt under Supreme Court orders, they now decided to claim damages through the Claims Tribunal established under the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, 2021. The earlier notices that were withdrawn after Supreme Court took the state government to task, were issued by district administration, and now it is the Claims Tribunal that is issuing similar notices.
As per the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, 2021, persons found guilty by claims tribunals of damaging government or private properties will face imprisonment of one year or a fine ranging between Rs 5,000 and Rs 1 lakh.
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Advocate Najmu Saqib, who is part of a team of lawyers representing the 21 accused from Kanpur, says that despite the Supreme Court’s order to refund those that had already paid the damages, the accused from Kanpur have still not received the refund amount. Saqib told the Indian Express, “The Supreme Court had ordered the UP government to refund the money recovered from the accused. But no money has been given to any of the 21 people. Instead, the Claims Tribunal has now issued fresh notices against those who had paid the administration.”
On being confronted, UP Advocate General Raghvendra Singh said, “If they are found innocent during the proceedings, they will get the money back. I don’t know this matter in great detail.”
Earlier Notices withdrawn
Last month, after severe criticism from the Supreme Court, the Uttar Pradesh government on February 18, 2022 withdrew its 274 notices against people who had protested the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) for recovery of alleged damages to public property prior to the issuance of the related law in 2020.
The Supreme Court Bench of Justices D. Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant questioned the state government about adjudicating the recovery notices via Additional District Magistrates (ADMs) and not judicial officers, as mandated by the court. It gave the government seven days of time to show how the notices to 2019 protesters “were not in contravention to Supreme Court directions”. The court warned that it will quash the notices itself, if they fail to do so.
Accordingly, UP Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad said that the government withdrew the notices on February 14 and February 15 and directed the cases to be overseen by the Tribunals constituted under the Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act 2021. Further, the Bench directed the government to refund any damage recoveries collected under the previous order. “This will however be without prejudice to such action as may be warranted in terms of the proceedings before and the decision of the Claims Tribunal at a subsequent stage,” said the Bench.
However, according to LiveLaw, Prashad unsuccessfully contested this saying, “Order of refund would send the wrong message.” She said the release of refunds and attachments will be difficult due to the Model Code of Conduct enforced in the state. According to the state government representative, the refund will send a message to the public that “the entire process is illegal and no such recovery can be made.”
Still, the Bench called for the refund citing Article 142 and its constitutional duty to enforce judicial orders to keep people from running around.
During earlier proceedings, the court had pulled up the UP government for ignoring its orders, saying, “You have become complainant, you have become adjudicator, and then you are attaching property of the accused.”
The Bench was hearing a plea filed by ParwaizArifTitu in January 2020, asking that the notices against alleged anti-CAA protesters be quashed for violating SC’s 2009 and 2018 rulings.
What had the UP government done to anti-CAA protesters?
Since the discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 was introduced and passed in Parliament, and threats of the implementation of an all-India Nation Register of Citizens (NRC) and National Population Register (NPR) made repeatedly, spontaneous protests broke out across the country. People challenged the discriminatory nature of the amendment that excluded the Muslim community from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. A unified resistance built up against these discriminatory legislative and policy moves.
However, the ruling BJP government cracked down hard on these protests. The most brutal was perhaps the state sanctioned actions in UP where police lathi-charged and allegedly even fired at unarmed protesters. As many as 23 people died due to this, and around 350 FIRs were filed against at least 1,05,000 people.
At the time, the government and administration also displayed posters and hoardings throughout the state capital of Lucknow of alleged anti-CAA protesters in a crude and illegal way of ‘naming’ and shaming them. As many as 57 persons were named and with their addresses and photographs put up on posters and hoardings. They were accused of being part of the violence during the protests. The alleged protestors were also arbitrarily asked to pay huge sums compensation for “damage to public property” that took place during the violence at the protest in December, 2019. The hoardings also said that if these people fail to pay up, their properties will be attached/confiscated. The total amount of damage to property listed in the hoardings was up to Rs. 1.55 crore.
According to a recent APCR report on the anti-CAA protests and ensuing violence, people who were illegally arrested and tortured in prison for two years were also given damage notices. Their families paid the money in the police station while they were incarcerated. Following people’s bail, the state police refused to return the amount. It is for these people that the SC has demanded a refund.
Before putting up these posters, the UP Chief Minister had declared that properties of those involved in the violence would be seized and auctioned to compensate for destruction of public and private assets during the protests over the amended citizenship law and issued three recovery orders for the same.
Former Inspector General of Uttar Police S R Darapuri and Congress leader Sadaf Jafar, were among 46 people who were each issued recovery orders with the same amount — Rs 64.37 lakh — from the ADM (Lucknow East). Both had denied that they were present at the site of the protests. Jafar, who contested the UP polls from Lucknow (Central), called the notices “illegal and unconstitutional” and Darapuri was quoted by IE as saying that the “procedure followed by the UP government to serve notices to us was against the apex court guidelines. I am glad the court has established the rule of law, and I am hoping that it will soon quash the proceedings on its own when the matter is heard next.”
After retirement, Darapuri dedicated himself to speaking up on issues regarding Dalits, Adivasis and minorities. He was 76 years old when he was arrested on December 20, 2019, after he called for a political but non-violent protest against CAA. He was released on bail in January 2020.
Jafar was also arrested and after she was released on bail in January, she publicly alleged that she was “tortured in police custody and called a Pakistani” when she was in jail. “Women police officers dragged me by my hand to the corner of the street and started beating me with a baton on my legs,” she recalled and also that they had kept saying, “Oh she’s Muslim.”
Image Courtesy: barandbench.com