8 UP districts start recovering property damages from public
Eight districts in Uttar Pradesh have begun the process of recovering damages caused during violent protests against the new citizenship law last week even as the administration in Meerut, the district with the highest death toll in the state, moved to cancel the arms licences of 117 people.
The action comes at a time when several locals in the area have alleged police excess during the clashes that broke out last week across several parts of Uttar Pradesh, where 18 people have been killed during the anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act protests. At least 14 of the victims had bullet injuries, including all the five dead in Meerut.
The administrators of the eight districts — Lucknow, Kanpur, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Sambhal, Rampur, Bijnor and Bulandshahr — have issued notices to at least 295 people for damages worth a minimum of ₹1.9 crore, senior district officials said. The highest claim for recovery was reported from Muzaffarnagar at ₹56.7 lakh, but the area’s additional district magistrate Amit Singh said the claims assessment process would be on until December 30. Another five districts said they were still assessing losses and notices would likely be issued by Thursday, officials said.
A 2009 verdict of the Supreme Court, and a subsequent order by the Allahabad high court, empowers the government to recover damages in case protests turn violent and public property is destroyed.
Meerut superintendent of police (city) AN Singh said arms licence notices were issued to people in the areas where clashes took place, and the police will probe if the alleged rioters had access to any of the licensed weapons or bullets. If their response to the notice is not found to be satisfactory, the licences will be cancelled. “When the clashes were happening, these people should have come forward with their guns and supported the authorities. Gun licences are not distributed like biscuits. You have to fulfil certain conditions, the primary of which is to protect life and property,” said Singh.
He added that the empty shells of around 69 bullets were similar to bullets issued to some licencees. “We need to check whether these bullets belonged to these licencees, and which guns were used to fire them,” Singh added.
Meerut’s additional district magistrate Ajay Tiwary said 12 notices were issued to people who had prima facie (at first sight) been found involved in the violence. The city has the highest death toll — 5 — across UP, where a total of 19 lives have been lost in the violence.
“If their response to the notice is found satisfactory, the notice will be recalled. Otherwise, further action will be taken,” he said.
The process of recovery includes levying a penalty, and even seizure of movable and immovable property at the final stage, said a senior government official.
The notices – which ask people why they shouldn’t be asked to pay for damages — are usually issued to people who are named in FIRs relevant to the claim filed, or who the police has identified in video and photographic evidence, the official added. In their response, the accused or their family members can produce evidence that they were not present or involved in the violence. The response has to be filed within a week, after which the administration starts the process of recovery. A second official said that the estimated extent of damage was at ₹50 lakh in the city.
Violence roiled several cities of UP last week during protests against CAA, which seeks to speed up the grant of Indian citizenship to members of religious minorities from the Muslim-majority nations of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Police in three districts — Kanpur, Bijnor and Meerut — admitted to firing shots in “self-defence”.
On Tuesday, Rampur became the first district to start the process of recovering damages by issuing notices to 28 people for damages worth ₹14.86 lakh.
The action was initiated after chief minister Yogi Adityanath on December 19 directed officials to identify the protesters and recover the losses.
The Lucknow district administration issued notices to at least 100 people. Additional district magistrate Vishwa Bhushan Mishra said, “Assessment is on. So far police have submitted their damage report worth ₹26 lakh while other departments are yet to furnish the report.”
In Kanpur, the administration issued notice to 15 people for damages worth ₹10.97 lakh, said superintendent of police Anant Deo Tiwari. In Muzaffarnagar, 50 people were slapped with notices, said district magistrate Selva Kumari J. “The assessment process is yet not over. The assessment as well as process of identification of people is on.”
In Bijnor, notices were issued to 43 people for damages worth ₹19.70 lakh while in Bulandshahr notices for recovery of ₹6 lakh were given. In Sambhal, 26 notices were processed for recovery of ₹15 lakh. In Meerut, 12 notices were issued. In Gorakhpur, 33 persons were served notices. Districts such as Varanasi, Agra, Gorakhpur, Aligarh, Hapur are still assessing the losses and notices are likely to be issued to more than 200 people on Thursday.
“We are assessing the losses and most likely notices will be issued to over 100 people in a day or two. We are also including cost of one day salary of each personnel of the force deployed to maintain law and order,” said Varanasi district magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma.
Some of the people slapped with notices contended that they were not connected to the violence. “My son Zameer is an embroidery worker…he is in jail and I even don’t have resource to bring him out from jail. How will we pay this amount? My son had nothing to do with protest,” said Munni Begum, a resident of Rampur. Ashna, a Muzaffarnagar resident, said her brother was at home when the violence broke out. “Next day police arrested him and we could not do anything,” she said.
Muslim community leaders in Meerut said they feared the process of claims recovery might not be fair. “This process seems completely wrong. During farmers’ and other agitations also there was lots of violence and cars were set on fire. But no compensation was asked,” said Zainur Rasheedin, a community leader.