My mind is boggling considering what is going on in Ulta Pradesh (sorry, Uttar Pradesh) lately. I was 20 years a lawyer and 20 years a judge, so I thought I was well versed in the principles of law, but now I am learning a new jurisprudence which can only be found in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.
The Queen of Hearts in that renowned work shouts at prisoners, “Off with their heads“, and when someone dares to ask what about a trial, she says:
“Trial later, first off with their heads.”
Similarly, the shahenshahs of UP (I dare not call them modern Neros, for fear of defamation suits) who seem to have sprouted by the dozens lately in connection with the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in the state, have been imposing heavy penalties, sealing shops, and confiscating properties left and right, all without holding a trial, which will come later (if at all), and without sanction of any statute.
Thus, the poet Imran Pratapgarhi was slapped with a Rs 1.05 crore fine in connection with the anti-CAA protest at the Eidgah in Moradabad by the shahenshah of Moradabad, district magistrate Rakesh Singh. This fine has been calculated on the basis of the daily cost of deployment of the police and paramilitary forces at the Eidgah protest site.
The DM said his permission had not been taken before holding the protest. But Article 19(1)(b) of the constitution states:
“All citizens shall have the right to assemble peaceably and without arms”.
And no permission of the DM is required to exercise this fundamental right.
Of course, in view of Article 19(3), a law can be made placing reasonable restrictions on this right in the interest of sovereignty of the state or public order, but there was no allegation of violation of the sovereignty of the state or public order by the anti-CAA protest at the Eidgah in Moradabad.
The shahenshah of Muzaffarnagar (the district magistrate) ordered the sealing of over 67 shops belonging to alleged anti CAA protesters, but one wonders under what law, and how these shopkeepers were identified, and whether they were given any opportunity of hearing. In an earlier article I had warned that such lawless acts, if not stopped, would be the beginning of a fascist era in India.
The soil of UP seems to be breeding many such shahenshahs, and now the latest one, K.P. Singh, additional district magistrate (East), in a Tughlaqi farman, has ordered a sum of Rs 63 lakhs to be recovered within 30 days from 28 anti-CAA protesters for damage to public property during the protest at Parivartan Chowk, Hazratganj, Lucknow in December 2019.
Among these 28 are S.R. Darapuri, a 77-year-old retired IPS officer and Md Shoeb, a 73-year-old activist who claim they were under house arrest at the time of the incident. Another activist, Sadaf Jafar, who was arrested and badly treated by the police, claims she had nothing to do with the violence.
The basic objection to these high handed acts of the executive authorities is that they could not have legally been done without court orders, and the court could not have passed such orders without a regular trial, in which the accused were given full opportunity of hearing, through counsel if they so wished.
No doubt fines can be imposed under Section 147 of the Indian Penal Code, as well as under the Prevention of Damage to Public Properties Act, 1984, for damage to public property, but these are penal statutes, and for penal offences a trial as laid down in the Code of Criminal Procedure must be held before imposing any penalty on the accused.
This is whether the state is seeking to impose a fine, confiscate property or seal shops, and these penalties, too, can only be imposed by the court, not the executive authorities.
But the new jurisprudence which has arisen in the soil of Ulta Pradesh does not require all this.
After all, we are living in Wonderland.
Justice Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Indian Supreme Court.