The Allahabad High Court has sought a response from government authorities in Sitapur on a PIL alleging “financial hardship” to farmers after the district administration demanded “exorbitant personal bonds” ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 10 lakh from them, plus sureties, “on the apprehension that they may violate law and order” given the farmers’ protests on in the district.
In the PIL, activist Arundhati Dhuru said the Sitapur district administration issued the notices to farmers who own tractors on January 19, and police surrounded their houses to prevent them from joining the protests. In its order on January 25, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court asked the state authorities to state “as to under what circumstances such an exorbitant amount of personal bond and two sureties have been asked”. The matter has been listed for next hearing on February 2.
Sub-Divisional Magistrate (Maholi) Pankaj Rathore told The Indian Express the action was justified. “If we had not taken such action, Sitapur would have had the same situation which happened in Delhi.”
Around 35 farmers from Sitapur are known to have joined the ongoing protests at Delhi’s borders. Within the district, a protest was held on January 13 in the Mishrikh area.
A notice issued to farmers under the Pisawan Police Station by SDM Rathore reads, “It has been brought to notice that in village Satnapur following people (going on to name 10 persons) have an internal conflict over protests against the farm Bills etc. Because of this, there is tension. Due to this, the people may disturb peace any time. Keeping this in mind, it is necessary to keep opposing sides bound down.”
A Bench of Justices Ramesh Sinha and Rajeev Singh noted that as per the PIL, orders had been passed by SDMs of different areas of Sitapur, working under the DM. “… the petitioner has submitted that notices… are not only baseless but also take away the fundamental rights of a person as farmers are not allowed to come out from their houses as the police have surrounded their houses,” reads the order.
The Bench directed Additional Advocate General Shri Vinod Kumar Shahi, representing the state, to “fetch instructions in the matter from (the) Sitapur District Magistrate”.
According to the petition, the notices ask farmers to furnish personal bonds ranging from Rs 50,000 to Rs 10 lakh and two sureties of like amounts. The PIL says that not only are the amounts too exorbitant for the farmers, these had been sought “merely on the basis of the report of the local police personnel and without providing any opportunity of hearing to such farmers”.
The notice issued by the Maholi SDM directs the 10 farmers, including four women, named by it to present themselves by 10 am on January 21, and explain why they should not sign personal bonds worth Rs 10 lakh each and hand over two sureties of the same amount for one year to maintain peace.
Kamal Kishore, one of the farmers served a notice in the Pisawan Police Station area, however, said they were not allowed to present their side. “The notices were served at our homes. Some people were just shown the notices by officials, who then took them back. Those among us with smartphones clicked a photo,” Kishore, who is associated with the district’s Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan (SKMS), said.
Ram Saheli, 35, of Pisawan, also served a notice, said she had five children and could barely make ends meet on her one bigha land. “I live on the same land. I cultivate some vegetables and the rest of the time work as a farm labourer,” she said.
Rathore said they provided farmers enough chance to reply to the notices. “Many farmers came on the dates allotted to them. I explained the CrPC provisions to them under which action was being taken. I told the farmers they were free to move around, but should not indulge in any activity which may disturb peace. I told them they can celebrate Republic Day.” The SDM added that those who could not appear on a specified date were given another date.
Sitapur Additional DM Vinay Kumar Pathak told The Indian Express that the SDMs and city magistrates had served the notices following reports from Circle Officers about law and order concerns. “After a report is received from a police station, and according to the stature of a person, a notice is served under CrPC Section 111 with amount (specified),” said Pathak.
The ADM added that he didn’t know how many notices were served in the district. “For that, we will have to collect data from respective SDMs and city magistrates.”
Dhuru, who is the national convenor of the National Alliance of People’s Movements, said she came to know of the issue through the SKMS. “We are also collecting such notices sent to farmers of other districts, like Baghpat. We will be submitting these to the court at the next hearing.”
Kishore said farmers have every right to protest. “If a crop like potato is sold at Rs 40 per kg, why should we sell it for Rs 7? Guarantee of MSP is a must to protect farmers’ interests.”