Refund fines collected from CAA protesters: SC to UP govt

Updated on Feb 19, 2022 01:56 AM IST

The direction came after the state government informed the top court that it has withdrawn 274 notices issued for recovery of damages.

Anti-CAA protests: When the bench sought to know the amount that needed to be refunded, the UP government did not cite any specific figure but said the total ran into crores.
Anti-CAA protests: When the bench sought to know the amount that needed to be refunded, the UP government did not cite any specific figure but said the total ran into crores.
ByAbraham Thomas, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday directed the Uttar Pradesh (UP) government to refund fines and restore the attached properties of people involved in the December 2019 protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

The direction came after the state government informed the top court that it has withdrawn 274 notices issued for recovery of damages.

The court also dismissed the UP government’s claims that the bench’s directive would affect the model code of conduct (MCC) amid the ongoing assembly elections.

“Since the orders in pursuance of the show cause notices have been withdrawn by the state, there shall be refund of recoveries already made,” a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant said.

The bench, however, made it clear that the state can proceed against the protesters by issuing fresh notices as per the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, 2020.

“This (Refund) shall not prejudice the proceedings before the claims tribunal at the subsequent stage,” it said.

The top court last week, while hearing a public interest litigation filed by one Parwaiz Arif Titu against the recovery notices, had observed that the tribunals constituted by the state to hear the claims need to be headed by a retired judicial officer and not an additional district magistrate. The court agreed to set aside the recovery proceedings but gave a week’s time to the state government to consider withdrawing all proceedings.

Appearing for the state on Friday, additional advocate general (AAG) Garima Prasad informed the bench that the state had withdrawn the notices and subsequent proceedings initiated in the matter. He also said that all 274 files would now be taken up by the claims tribunals constituted under the new law which provides for judicial members to man the claims tribunals.

The state’s counsel also requested the court for a status quo order as otherwise whatever property was attached and the money collected under the earlier proceedings would have to be refunded.

The court, however, refused to oblige and directed the government to refund the fines.

“Imagine a citizen’s property gets attached and the order is withdrawn, can we say that the attachment can continue,” the court said.

When the bench sought to know the amount that needed to be refunded, the state did not cite any specific figure but said the total ran into crores.

“This order will send a very wrong message. This goes against the spirit of this court’s earlier orders that such acts (of damage to public property) should not go unpunished. The entire law will be frustrated as people will think that no action will be taken in such cases,” Prasad remarked.

To this, the bench said: “We have not said that you cannot pursue your remedies against damages caused to public property. You have the new law and we have no doubt about the power, ability and duty of the state to recover the damages. We have protected you as the tribunal can increase or decrease the compensation to be paid.”

Moreover, the court reminded the state that all consequences of their decision to withdraw the earlier proceedings must follow. “The recoveries have been made in pursuance of invalid orders. In certain categories of cases, we do not grant refunds such as unjust enrichment of taxes by business houses. But here, the burden has been passed on to people. We have to follow the yardsticks of our own constitutional jurisprudence,” it said.

Prasad insisted that in view of the MCC being in force in the state, the refund as well as the release of the attachments would pose difficulties.

“The MCC doesn’t restrict you when you are enforcing the court’s directions. How can the MCC comes in the way of enforcing the law? We have left it open to you to proceed before the tribunal. You go before the tribunal,” the bench said.

The state government has decided to proceed against the protesters through three tribunals set up in Meerut, Lucknow and Prayagraj, according to a press note by the state home department released later in the day.

The note also said that the state government is continuously carrying out videography of political protests, illegal protests, strikes, closures and agitations carried out in the state regarding damages caused to public and private property.

No major loss of public and private property was reported in the past two years, it added.

(With inputs from HTC, Lucknow)

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