In a setback to the Uttar Pradesh government, the Supreme Court Friday told it that exercise of the powers by the state has to be within the four corners of law and not beyond it. (Photo:PTI)
New Delhi: In a setback to the Uttar Pradesh government, the Supreme Court Friday told it that exercise of the powers by the state has to be within the four corners of law and not beyond it, and 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.
Justice D.Y.Chandrachud, heading a bench also comprising Justice Surya Kant, ordered the refund of the recoveries made so far after additional advocate general of Uttar Pradesh government, Garima Prasad, informed the court that by its February 14 and February 15 decision, the state government has withdrawn recovery notices issued on anti-CAA protesters for their alleged involvement in the destruction of public properties in the course of the agitation.
Observing that nothing survives in the matter after the withdrawal of recovery notices, the court ordered the refund of recoveries already made, even as the Uttar Pradesh government argued that refund of recoveries will send a wrong message and dent the deterrence that has come about due to its actions.
Much of the recoveries for the destruction of public property was imposed on small vendors selling vegetables, and other items of daily consumption at the doorsteps in the localities.
The Uttar Pradesh government's decision to withdraw the recovery notices came after the top court in the course of earlier hearing insisted on their withdrawal noting that procedure followed by the state government for affecting recoveries was flawed and inconsistent with the directions issued by the top court in two cases relating to the destruction of public/private parties in the course of agitation.
The court had said that the Uttar Pradesh government has acted like a "complainant, adjudicator and prosecutor" by itself in conducting the proceedings to attach the properties of the accused.
As AAG Garima Prasad laboured to persuade the court not to order the refund of recoveries already made, Justice Chandrachud said that they too have to act as per the law and the constitution.
After Garima Prasad pleaded with the court to let the recovery for damages collected so far be left to be dealt with by the tribunal, Justice Surya Kant said that they have no doubt about the "competence and ability" of the Uttar Pradesh government to act in the matter and said that the competent people who will head the tribunal will take a call and decide.
The tribunals constituted under the new law are being headed by retired district judges.
In 2020, when the Uttar Pradesh government initiated action against the anti-CAA protestors allegedly involved in the destruction of public/private property, it purportedly acted in pursuance to the guidelines issued by the top court but later, in 2021, it enacted a law — Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act – providing for the setting up of tribunals to prosecute cases relating to the damage to public property in the course of an agitation or protest.
The top court was hearing a plea by a lawyer, Perwaiz Arif Titu, seeking the quashing of recovery notices as he questioned the procedure being followed in imposing damages as Uttar Pradesh government was acting contrary to the law laid down by the top court in two cases relating to destruction of public/private property in the course of an agitation or protest.
The petitioner Arif had sought direction for setting up of an independent judicial enquiry to probe into the incidents that occurred during the protests against the CAA-NRC in Uttar Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh had earlier apprised the top court that 106 FIRs were registered against 833 rioters in the state and 274 recovery notices were issued against them and out of the 274 notices, recovery orders were passed in 236 while 38 cases were closed. The court was also told that these orders were passed by additional district magistrates.