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For UP's Anti-CAA Protesters, Withdrawn Recovery Notices Come as a Relief

However, they don't believe it is enough to make up for the harassment they have faced.

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Lucknow: To quell voices of dissent against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, the Yogi Adityanath government had pulled out all the stops – from arrests to illegal recovery notices against protesters – from December 2019 onwards.

After a struggle of more than two years, protesters got some relief as the government withdrew the recovery notices issued against them. Under pressure from the Supreme Court, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew 274 recovery notices that were issued by additional district magistrates (ADMs).

While those had been issued these notices feel some relief, they believe just a withdrawal is not enough to make up for the harassment they have faced and the way the regime went after those who dissent.

Retired IPS officer S.R. Darapuri, against whom a recovery notice was issued and then withdrawn, told The Wire, “The withdrawal of notices established the fact that the BJP government oppressed dissenters.” Tehsildar-level officers had visited his house in the Indira Nagar locality to serve recovery notices. “They intimidated me and my family,” Darapuri said.

A 1972 batch IPS officer, Darapuri said that his arrest and subsequent recovery notice were both arbitrary. “On the day of the protest, I was at home under house arrest. How I could provoke the mob to violence when I hadn’t stepped out of my house on that day?”

Mohammad Shoaib, president of the Rihai Manch, also faced similar harassment in the name of recovery. Shoaib claimed that he was at home in the Aminabad locality when the violence erupted. But the administration knocked on his door several times for the recovery of Rs 64 lakh. “To evade the humiliation of the administration, I left my home with my weak and old wife.” Shoaib, who is also a senior lawyer, said, “The Yogi government humiliated me for a crime I did not commit.”

Police even sent notices to protesters during the first wave of COVID-19. Stage artist Deepak Kabir received a notice for the recovery of Rs 65 lakh during the lockdown. Kabir told The Wire, “When the country was facing the worst phase of the pandemic in 2020, the BJP was settling scores with its critics. …People did not have money to purchase food grains, and they were mounting pressure on me for attachment of my house.”

These recovery notices also hit the livelihoods of some dissenters. Abdul Taufeeq, a taxi driver, had not gotten a taxi on rent for six months when the news of the recovery notice of Rs 1.75 lakh against him spread in his locality. Taufeeq said, “My family was under debt as all the cab owners refused to give their cabs to me.”

“They were afraid that the police might confiscate their cabs to recover the fine imposed on me. We borrowed money from relatives and friends to manage the expenses of the house and pay the school fees of my younger sister,” said Taufeeq.

The education of the children of protestor Mahenoor Chowdhury was also hit adversely as his scrap shop has been seized for the past two years. His shop was seized by the administration for a recovery of Rs 21 lakh.

“My children were expelled from school because of non-payment of fees. The Yogi government made my children illiterate,” Chowdhury added. “I mortgaged my wife’s jewellery for the dialysis of my brother, who has been suffering from acute kidney disease.”

Asma Izzat, a lawyer and social worker who represents eight protesters who received the recovery notices, told The Wire, “The credit for the prompt withdrawal of the recovery notices goes to the apex court. If the court does not pull up the UP government for its illegal notices, the chief minister will never withdraw them.”

According to Izzat, many protesters lived in fear after getting notice. They were afraid that the government might attach their properties without following the due legal process. “The withdrawal of the notices comes as a relief for the protesters, however a long legal battle remains pending,” Izzat said.

Violence was reported during the anti-CAA in various cities of the state on January 19, 2019. More than 20 protesters died during the protest. Several people, including women and children, suffered injuries in an alleged police crackdown on the following evening.

The violence erupted when the police tried to stop protesters from reaching the agitation sites. During the clashes between police and protesters, some public and private properties were damaged.

The Adityanath government issued notices to recover the cost of properties damaged, relying on the Allahabad high court’s 2011 judgement in the Mohammad Shujaddin vs State of UP case. However, the government ignored the Supreme Court guidelines issued in 2009 and subsequently in 2018.

Earlier, the apex court observed in 2009 that the power to compute damages and investigate liability for the destruction of public property is to be exercised either by a serving or retired high court judge or a retired district judge as a claims commissioner.

The apex court had taken strong exception to ADMs being assigned adjudication. However, the court gave liberty to the state government to issue fresh notices under the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, 2020.

The government had also put up hoardings with pictures and addresses of the protesters at the crossroads of various towns, about which privacy concerns had been raised.