By Abdul Bari Masoud

I was under house arrest on 19/12/2019, the day of protest and I did not participate in the protest and as such I did not cause damage to any property. I was arrested on 20 December, 2019 at Lucknow and sent to jail on 21 December as a result of political vendetta against me. While in jail I received a show-cause notice from ADM on 2/1/2020 for recovery of damages for destruction of property during anti-CAA protest at Lucknow on 19/12/2019.” 

This was narrated by 78 years old S R Darapuri, who is not an ordinary person but a former Inspector General of UP Police. He was served with an “illegal and plainly arbitrary” notice of recovery during the anti-CAA movement in Uttar Pradesh. Imagine what had happened to ordinary folks and the impoverished during the anti-CAA campaign, which the Yogi government wanted to smash with an iron fist.

“When the violence started, I was at home in the Aminabad neighbourhood,” 74-year-old Advocate Mohammad Shoaib said. “However, I received a notification from the ADM ordering me to pay Rs. 64 lakh as damages to public properties.”

Abdul Taufeeq, a cab driver, learned that an Rs. 1.75 lakh recovery notice had been served in his neighbourhood.

From December 2019 onwards, the Yogi government had pushed out all the brakes – from arrests to illegal recovery claims – to silence voices of dissent against the controversial and discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act.

A staggering 500 recovery notices for damages to public properties had been issued arbitrarily throughout ten districts, without due legal procedure, for damages totalling Rs.3.55 crores, which the Supreme Court has declared illegal and unconstitutional.

However, this does not change the fact that they were subjected to torture and harassment, and as a result, some of them were forced to pay these illegal fines. In Kanpur alone, over 15 families, usually daily wagers, paid Rs. 13, 476 apiece, oblivious to the legal process.

Speaking with Radiance, S R Darapuri, who also heads  All India Peoples Front, said the UP government’s entire approach has been completely illegal, arbitrary and repressive.

“Following my release on January 7, 2020, I responded to the show cause notice on January 10, 2020, claiming that I was under house arrest on December 19, 2019, the day of the demonstration, and that I did not engage in the protest and, as a result, did not cause any property damage. Second, my guilt is yet to be established in court. However, ADM denied my plea, and on June 18, 2020, I was served with a recovery notice for Rs. 64.37 lakhs, requiring me to pay the money within seven days, failing which I will be arrested and my property will be seized, said the former top cop Darapuri.

“Subsequently, the revenue authorities Tehsildar/ Naib Tehsildar Sadar Lucknow came to my house several times and threatened my family. My wife was in a critical condition at the time. My family and I were greatly upset by the visits and behaviour of revenue officers,” he added.

Similar is the case of Lucknow-based Mohammad Shoaib, President of the Rihai Manch, a human rights organisation fighting terror and other rights violation cases.

In the guise of recovery, Adv. Shoaib told Radiance, he was harassed as he has been working for youths framed in terror charges.

The officials came knocking on his home multiple times to retrieve Rs 64 lakh.

“To avoid the administration’s humiliation, I left my home with my frail and elderly wife. The Yogi government humiliated me for a crime I did not commit,” Shoaib, a prominent lawyer, added.

During the initial wave of COVID-19, police even sent opponents notices when people did not have money to purchase food grains, and sustenance for life, the local authorities were mounting pressure to pay damages.

Stage performer Deepak Kabir received a notice for recovery of Rs. 65 lakh. “When the country was suffering the deadliest phase of the pandemic in 2020, the BJP was settling scores with its opponents,” Kabir said and added that they threatened to seize my house if the recovery amount is not paid.

These recovery notifications have also had an impact on the livelihoods of some dissenters. When the word of Rs 1.75 lakh recovery notice was circulated in Abdul Taufeeq’s neighbourhood, he had been without a cab for six months. “All the cab owners refused to give me their cabs, therefore my family was in debt,” Taufeeq added.

In the Destruction of Public and Private Properties vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, the Supreme Court ruled that the cost of damage must be recovered by those who caused it, but through a judicial process rather than by the state.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was so inflamed with revenge that after the Citizenship Amendment Act protests it promulgated and notified the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damage to Public and Private Property Ordinance 2020 on 15th March 2020.

This Ordinance mandates that a person participating in a protest, political rally, strike, or shutdown has to give compensation in case of damage to public or private property caused by him or her. It also covers the incidents of riots. It further provided for the setting up of a claim tribunal which shall have rights to attach the property of the accused. The two tribunals covered the entire state. The Lucknow tribunal covers the eastern region while the one in Meerut covers the western region. The tribunal is headed by a retired district-level judge and a search committee headed by the chief secretary was set up to identify people who will be part of the tribunals. The Lucknow tribunal handles the cases from Jhansi, Kanpur, Chitrakoot, Lucknow, Ayodhya, Devi Patan, Prayagraj, Azamgarh, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Basti and Vindhyanchal divisions. Claims from Saharanpur, Meerut, Aligarh, Moradabad, Bareilly and Agra divisions are taken up by the Meerut tribunal.

The manner in which the UP government, by Yogi’s own admission, has gone about exacting ‘revenge’ ostensibly in its bid to recover the cost of public property ‘damaged’ in the protests. Thus the due process of law has been thwarted as officials play judge and jury.

The Yogi government put up photographs and addresses of persons who had been given recovery notices in hoardings in Lucknow and other cities of the state in the first week of March, 2020, in flagrant violation of one’s fundamental rights and right to privacy under Art. 21 and also exposed them to targeting and mob lynching.  However, Allahabad High Court took suo moto notice and directed the Yogi government to remove them.

The Yogi government did not comply with this order and appealed in the Supreme Court. In spite of no stay, the government did not remove those hoardings and finally they just weathered out.

“I along with others in March, 2021 went to Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court for stay and quashing of recovery orders but no relief has been given so far,” Darapuri stated.

Using the Allahabad High Court’s 2011 decision in the Mohammad Shujaddin vs State of UP case, the Yogi government issued notices to recover the cost of properties damaged. The administration, on the other hand, disregarded Supreme Court guidelines issued in 2009 and again in 2018.

After two years legal battle, the  CM Yogi has to eat humble pie when the Supreme Court ordered the UP government to repay the whole cash collected after the state withdrew recovery notices issued to alleged anti-CAA protestors in response to the top court’s censure.

“How can an attachment be allowed to continue if it is done against the law and the orders have been recalled?” the apex court wondered.

Earlier on February 11, the court chastised the UP government for acting on the recovery notices issued to accused anti-CAA protestors and gave one more chance to withdraw the proceedings before the court threatened to quash them for being in breach of the law.

The Additional Advocate General for Uttar Pradesh petitioned the Supreme Court not to issue the refund order because the recovery totalled crores of rupees, implying that the administration’s entire operation was unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and Surya Kant, however, did not heed the request and instead directed them to approach the tribunal to follow correct notice-issuance procedures.

The UP government retracted 274 recovery notices issued by additional district magistrates after being ordered by the Supreme Court.

However, we have not received any order so far regarding withdrawal of recovery notices, Dararpuri said.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a welcome decision, said Safoora Zargar, research scholar of Jamia Millia Islamia, who along with Asif Iqbal Tanha prepared a fact-finding report, “The Struggle for Equal Citizenship in Uttar Pradesh and Its Costs: A Saga of Omnibus FIRs, Loot, Arrests, and Harassment of Muslim Minority,” which was released recently in New Delhi by the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR) at Press Club of India.  Both the activists had been arrested during anti-CAA protests by Delhi Police.

Speaking with Radiance, Safoora said there were concerted efforts by all the state actors to deny justice to victims of police highhandedness in UP. 

However, why is nobody held responsible for this unlawful action? These people faced harassment, public humiliation and trauma for two years but there is no acknowledgement of that, she said.

In fact, two tribunals were further set up to look into the recovery cases. These tribunals are still active. Will the anti-CAA protestors continue to pay for crimes they did not commit? Safoora asked.

Meanwhile, the UP government’s law for making recoveries was also challenged in the apex court. Activist and senior journalist Qurban Ali along with victim Deepak Kabir filed a petition in the court arguing that the said law is ultra vires and beyond the legislative competence of the state of Uttar Pradesh.

In addition, the petitioners have particularly challenged the constitutional validity of Section 28(2) of the said Act for it being ultra vires and against the principles of natural justice as it saves from being cancelled the pending proceedings that arose out of such government orders that were issued before the enactment of the Act, Ali told Radiance.

At least 23 Muslims were killed, over 3,000 people arrested, 350 First Information Reports (FIRs) filed, and police across the state named 5000 named and over 100,000 unidentified persons during the anti-CAA demonstrations.

As former top cop Darapuri sums up, “The whole action of the UP government has been totally illegal, arbitrary and oppressive.”

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