Updated: January 23, 2022 6:26:46 pm
A rickshaw puller, a tonga driver, a fruit seller, a chicken seller, a milkman, a youth who works at his father’s garment shop, and a teenager who has quit school. Then, there are eight daily wage labourers, earning about Rs 200-250 per day — if they get work. The youngest is 18, the oldest 70.
As per official records, they paid Rs 13,476 each to the Kanpur district administration. Reason: They are among 21 people ordered to pay equally for Rs 2.83 lakh in damages caused to property during the anti-CAA protests in Bekanganj on December 21, 2019.
The break-up of the damage, as per the administration: a government-owned Tata Sumo valued at Rs 2.5 lakh; two cameras, three windows and two doors valued at Rs 33,000.
On Saturday, The Indian Express reported how the Lucknow district administration ignored due process and used a contentious “joint and several liability” provision in the law to issue recovery notices totalling Rs 64.37 lakh to 46 people for damage caused during the protests in Hazratganj on December 19, 2019.
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In Lucknow, all the accused have pinned their hopes on appeals in the Allahabad High Court. In Kanpur, they were not so lucky.
The Indian Express tracked down the families of 15 of the 21. None is aware of how the figure of 2.83 lakh, and their share of Rs 13,476 was arrived at.
One family said it paid the amount from their “meagre” savings. Two other families “do not know” who paid the money on their behalf. The other 12 said they had either borrowed money from friends or neighbours and “somehow managed to pay” because the “police were constantly putting pressure”.
All the 15 were jailed in the case but got bail. None of the families is willing to identify themselves.
Lawyers for seven of the 15 say none challenged the recovery notice. “Some were in jail when the notices reached their houses. Some of them reached out to us after someone had already paid on their behalf. All the clients that I am handling in this case are poor,” said one of the lawyers on the condition that he not be named.
One of the accused, a daily-wager, when asked why he did not challenge the notice, said: “We did not want to challenge the government, the administration and the police. We don’t have the resources.”
The Kanpur case is based on an FIR lodged by the police in Bekanganj after arresting nine of the 21 from the protest site. The subsequent recovery notices issued by the then Additional District Magistrate (City) Vivek Kumar Srivastava to the 21 are identical.
“According to the report filed by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP), it is clear that on December 21, 2019, you indulged in vandalism and damaged public property. For this you have been charged along with nine named and 1200 unidentified people,” stated the notice delivered to one of the accused on January 24, 2020.
“During the probe, your crime was found to happen under the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act, 1984…Hence, you are ordered to be present in my court on January 28, 2020 and give me in writing why action should not be taken against you and you made to pay for the damages incurred to public property,” the notice stated.
The lawyer for one of the accused who is also a daily-wager said he replied to the notice on January 24, 2020, rebutting the evidence presented by the administration. “The photograph shown by the administration and police as that of my client was not his. It was not a clear photograph and it was definitely not of my client. Despite my stating so, an order was passed that my client will have to pay for the damages,” said the lawyer.
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In a recovery order passed in this case on March 6, 2020, the then ADM (City) stated: “No evidence was provided by the lawyer of the accused along with the objection filed by him… It is proved in totality that the opposite party has indulged in vandalism along with others… There is a photograph of the accused along with photographs of damaged things on fire. This proved that the accused was involved… It is expected that the accused will pay Rs 13,476 for the damages.”
The accused was given seven days to pay for the damages. He paid up.
Said his lawyer: “The ADM issued a notice. Through me, my client replied. Instead of giving a reply to my client’s contention, the ADM court passed an order asking for the money within seven days. How can an ADM court pass such an order? The police accused some people, and the administration deemed them guilty.”
When contacted by The Indian Express and asked for his response to the allegations levelled by the lawyers and families of the accused, the then ADM Vivek Srivastava, now posted as Chief Revenue Officer of UP’s Ballia district, said: “This is election time, and I can’t give you any version.”
Meanwhile, the father of another accused said: “The police would visit every second day and say that our house will be auctioned. They said that if we pay, we will be safe for some time. We were left with no choice except to pay the money.”
Families of at least five of the 15 said the accused do not stay at home any more “due to fear of the police”. “We have asked our son to stay with relatives. If he stays here, we fear that the police will frame more charges against him. We thought it is better if he stays out of sight of policemen,” said the mother of an accused.
The eight daily-wagers said the case hit their livelihood hard. “I depended on my daily earnings. While I was in jail, there was no money coming in. Once I was released, the lockdown happened and there was no work. I had to borrow the compensation money from someone in the neighbourhood. Also, there were people who fed our children over such a long period. How will I repay? In all, I am facing a debt of at least Rs 1 lakh,” said one of them.
One of the lawyers said they filed a petition in the Allahabad High Court after an accused in a similar case from another area of Kanpur obtained a stay from the High Court on recovery proceedings.
The lawyer said: “We had filed a petition in the High Court citing that order, but the ADM said that we must get individual orders for each person. We filed similar petitions for the others, too. But while the case was pending, the police put so much pressure on our clients that they were forced to pay.”
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