SC directs UP to refund recovered damages, restoration of properties of anti-CAA protestors

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UP CM Yogi Adityanath

New Delhi: In a setback to the Uttar Pradesh government, the Supreme Court Friday directed it to refund the fine and restore the attached properties of the alleged anti-CAA protestors for causing damage to public and private assets in December 2019.

The apex court said it is a case of “unjust enrichment”, and the state can very well recover the damages under the new law, once it is established before the claims tribunal that public and properties were damaged.

The UP government told the top court that it has withdrawn 274 recovery notices and subsequent proceedings initiated against anti-CAA protestors in 2019 for property damages.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant granted liberty to the UP government to proceed against alleged anti-CAA protestors under the new law -- Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act notified on August 31, 2020.

“Orders in pursuance to the show cause notices have been withdrawn, in terms of the government orders (GOs) by the state of Uttar Pradesh, there shall be refund of any recoveries which have been made in the meantime. This will, however, be without prejudice to such action as may be warranted, in terms of the proceedings and decisions of the claims tribunals, at the subsequent stage,” it said.

The bench said it is a very important Constitutional principle that all deterrence against the evasion of law has to be provided in the four corners of the law.

“There cannot be any principle of deterrence, which lies outside the fold of law”, the bench said, adding that after the withdrawal of orders, it will be a case of "unjust enrichment".

It noted the submission of Additional Advocate General Garima Prashad, appearing for Uttar Pradesh, that on February 14 and 15, 2022, two GOs were issued in terms of which show cause notices in 274 cases for alleged destruction of public properties since December 2019 have been withdrawn together with the proceedings which were subsequently carried out.

“In view of the enactment of the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damage to Public and Private Property Act, 2020, it has been stated that the state government would refer all the cases to the claims tribunal which has been constituted in pursuance of the state legislation for further action in accordance with law. In view of the above statement made on behalf of the state government nothing further would survive,” the bench said.

The apex court was hearing a plea filed by one Parwaiz Arif Titu seeking quashing of notices sent to alleged protestors by the district administration for recovering losses caused by damage to public properties during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) agitations in UP and asked the state to respond to it.

The plea has alleged that such notices have been sent in an "arbitrary manner" against a person who had died six years ago at the age of 94 and also to several others including two people who are aged above 90.

At the outset, Prashad said the state government has completely honoured the court's observation and in compliance, all the earlier 274 show cause notices and the subsequent proceedings all of them have been withdrawn and files sent to the respective claims tribunals which have been constituted under the Act.

She submitted that the intent of court judgements has been fulfilled as since the past two years from when the new Act of 2020 has been legislated, there has not been a single incident of such violence or damage to any public property.

The bench said that when the court delivered those judgments for collection of damages for destruction of government property in 2009 and then in 2018, the idea was that there has to be accountability when public property is damaged.

“Our concern was that this should be through a process overseen by a judicial mind, so that ultimately state property is safeguarded and at the same time, there has to be a judicial forum which deals with it, so as to ensure that due process is followed. That's the thrust of our two judgements”, the bench said.

Advocate Nilofer Khan, appearing for the petitioner, said the question of Constitutionality and legality of the new legislation should be left open.

The bench said that the question of constitutionality and validity of the new law is not before the court and it would not say anything on it.

Khan said it has been reported in the media that rickshaw puller, vegetable seller, milk man and other small vendors were victimised and they had to sell everything to pay the damages.

The bench, taking note of Khan's submission, vehemently opposed by Prashad, ordered refund of the damages recovered.

Prashad said that status quo be ordered on the issue of refund as it will send a wrong message among the masses like the process was illegal and it would ultimately frustrate the objective of new law.

The bench said that if the orders have been recalled then the state will have to refund the damages recovered from the protestors and the court cannot say that the attachment must continue.

On February 11, the top court had pulled up the UP government for acting on the recovery notices and gave one final opportunity to it to withdraw the proceedings and warned that it will quash the proceedings for being in violation of the law. PTI

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