Following damage to public property in the anti-CAA-NRC protests, the Uttar Pradesh government has slapped notices on 372 people (out of 478 identified) to recover damages. It has cited a set of Supreme Court recommendations from 2007 and a 2011 Allahabad High Court order to justify this after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath declared “badla” (revenge) on rioters.
An analysis of protests and consequent action taken by administrations of at least six states — including Uttar Pradesh — in the past shows that the Yogi Adityanath government’s move to recover damages is unprecedented, at least in scale.
“This is the first time we are sending notices to identified rioters for recovery of the value of property damaged by them,” Uttar Pradesh DGP OP Singh admitted to The Indian Express.
The Indian Express analysed key public protests in the past four years in the states of UP, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Delhi. Barring the national capital, all these states were ruled by the BJP at the time of the protests.
Consider the following:
* In December 2018, UP police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, posted with Syana police station in Bulandshahr, was shot dead by a rampaging mob led by Bajrang Dal activists. Enraged over recovery of some cow carcasses in the area, the mob engaged in widespread violence and arson. While Subodh Kumar Singh’s police vehicle was set on fire after his murder, the mob ransacked a police chowki, set it on fire and burnt vehicles parked near the chowki. No notices for damage were sent to anyone by UP police in this case.
* In February 2016, several districts of Haryana were rocked by Jat quota protests. There was largescale violence where protesters not only damaged public and private property but also allegedly murdered members of non-Jat communities. As many as 30 people died in the stir, a majority of them from Jhajjar and Rohtak. Over 1,800 properties were damaged with their value being pegged by the state government at Rs 1,100 crore. Police sources said not a single notice for recovery of damages was sent to any rioter. The government, in fact, paid Rs 65.38 crore compensation to people whose private property was damaged.
* In August 2017, widespread violence was unleashed by followers of Dera Sacha Sauda’s Gurmeet Ram Rahim in Panchkula, Sirsa and other parts of Hrayana and Punjab following his conviction in a rape case. After the court verdict, Rahim’s supporters went on a rampage setting fire to vehicles, government buildings, petrol stations, media vans and railway stations. As many as 40 people were killed. The Punjab and Haryana High Court took cognisance of the violence and ordered recovery of damages from rioters. Following court orders, the state administration attached properties of Dera Sacha Sauda in Sirsa.
* In June 2017, a farmers’ protest in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, turned violent with agitators damaging rail tracks and burning down 27 vehicles. As many as six farmers died in firing by police which suffered heavy stone pelting. The protests later spread across the state.
* The state was also rocked by protests from Dalit groups in April 2019 when a nationwide stir called against the Supreme Court order diluting the SC/ST Atrocities Act turned violent.
In neither case, did the state send any notices to rioters or protestors for recovery of damages.
“The MP administration has not sent notices to anyone with regard to any protest in the past few years. In fact, a mechanism to implement the SC order has not been set up fully here,” a senior MP police officer told The Indian Express.
* In January 2018, Maharashtra witnessed largescale protests by Dalit groups over the Koregaon battle anniversary beginning from Bhima-Koregaon in Pune. In several parts of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad and Ahmednagar, stone pelting was reported. A 16-year-old boy, Yogesh Prahlad Jadhav, was killed during the protest. No notice was sent by Pune administration to any protestor for recovery of damages, sources in the state administration said.
“In the past, in context of some political protests, police has sent reports on public property damage to civil administration which is supposed to issue notices. But rarely have any notices been issued or recoveries been made,” a senior Maharashtra police officer said.
* Through 2017 and early 2018, parts of Rajasthan witnessed protests from Rajput group Karni Sena over the film Padmavati. Members of the group not only issued death threats to actors such as Deepika Padukone but also indulged in vandalism in Kota and Chittorgarh, where a mirror of the famed fort was broken. No notice was issued to any member of the Karni Sena by Rajasthan administration. Said Lokendra Singh Kalvi, founder and patron of the Shri Rajput Karni Sena (SRKS): “No notices were issued to any Karni Sena activists in the state during the protests. Moreover, those who were arrested for vandalism in Kota were not Karni Sena activists. And in Chittorgarh, an FIR was indeed filed but it was against unknown persons.”
A senior police official said, “After the FIR, we identified the culprits for the vandalism in Chittorgarh and filed a challan. That was the legal process as required in this case, we did not serve any notices.”
* The National Capital too witnessed widespread violence and demonstrations in the wake of demolition of a Ravidas temple in Tughlaqabad in August this year. Protestors indulged in arson and vandalism in various parts of Delhi. Scores of cars, bikes and buses were set on fire. Delhi police sources said no action was initiated by the police to recover damages in this case.
Notably, there is no law laid down for recovery of damage from protestors. Most of the sporadic actions that various state governments have taken in the past for recovery of damages from protestors have been based on an SC order of 2007 and subsequent high court orders in some states.
In 2007, the Supreme Court appointed two committees headed by retired SC judge Justice K T Thomas, and eminent jurist Fali S Nariman. The Thomas Committee recommended that the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act be amended to include a provision that would make leaders of the agitating group “which has called for ‘direct action’ guilty of abetment of the offence”. The Nariman Committee said the Supreme Court should evolve a principle of liability for vandalism and rioting leading to destruction of public and private property.
This punitive liability should be borne by the “actual perpetrators of the crime as well as organisers of the event to be shared as finally determined by the High Court or Supreme Court.”
The recommendations of both committees were accepted on April 16, 2009. In 2016, hearing a plea related to the Patidar agitation in Gujarat, the Supreme Court observed that protesters must be made to pay for the damage they had caused. As far back as 2002, Kerala High Court had given directions to the state on the recovery of damage caused by participants in a strike.
On the basis of the Thomas Committee report, the Centre invited, in 2015, suggestions from the public on the proposed amendments in PDPP Act. The Bill is yet to be tabled in Parliament.
Based on SC’s 2007 orders, the Allahabad HC too had in 2011 passed orders for recovery of damages from protestors.
Asked why this time, a senior UP officer said: “The move is not communally motivated. It is based on SC and HC orders. The administration had to take a call on implementing it at some time. Question us if we do not do this if the next time Bajrang Dal damages public property.”
— With inputs from & Varinder Bhatia; ENS, Pune, Rajasthan and Delhi