In Bulandshahr, the message to families who paid 'damages' for CAA protests is clear: Cough up and you'll face no harassment

The Bulandshahr villagers probably thought giving the money on their own would be a way of avoiding the inconvenience and worse, the ignominy of appearing in court repeatedly to prove that they hadn’t destroyed the property

Jyoti Punwani December 31, 2019 19:21:51 IST
In Bulandshahr, the message to families who paid 'damages' for CAA protests is clear: Cough up and you'll face no harassment
  • The villagers probably thought giving the money on their own would be a way of avoiding the inconvenience and worse, the ignominy of appearing in court repeatedly to prove that they hadn’t destroyed the property

  • This kind of exchange, where an entire village gets together and pays for the damage caused by a few, in return for an end to conflict, is the way a panchayat works

  • But, do administrations work like this?

They delved deep into their pockets and risked momentary humiliation to save themselves from years of disgrace. 

The decision by Bulandshahr's political leaders and villagers to hand over a cheque of Rs 6.27 lakh to the administration last week, didn't come  out of the blue. It was taken only after the administration had declared its intention to send them notices for the damages incurred during the 20 December protests against the CAA-NRC. One  police vehicle with a wireless communication set, and one more wireless set were  burnt.

 The villagers probably thought giving the money on their own would be a way of avoiding the inconvenience and worse, the ignominy of appearing in court repeatedly to prove that they hadn’t destroyed the property. While giving the money, not only did they express regret at the damage caused, but also requested the administration to withdraw cases against the villagers.

This kind of exchange, where an entire village gets together and pays for the damage caused by a few, in return for an end to conflict, is the way a panchayat works. But, do administrations work like this? 

In Bulandshahr the message to families who paid damages for CAA protests is clear Cough up and youll face no harassment

Representational image. PTI

After a riot, a village can give a bond of good behaviour to the administration in return for dropping the cases. But where does the question of  money come in? 

Incidentally, no compensation was demanded by the very same administration a year ago, when one of their own officers was lynched by a mob of cow vigilantes led by the Bajrang Dal. Before lynching Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh on 3 December, 2018, the mob attacked a police post and burnt 15 police vehicles.

If the cost of one vehicle is put at Rs 6 lakh, this Bajrang Dal mob should have received notices for almost Rs one crore. But though the police, furious at the lynching of one of their own, vent their rage on the families of the suspects when they went looking for them, the administration remained unfazed by the lynching. No orders were given then by the chief minister that the rioters must pay for the damage, unlike now. After all, those rioters were fighting for a cause dear to his heart. 

In fact, most administrations have been remarkably lax in recovering damages from vandals, even when they’ve been ordered by courts to do so. The rioters' cause may not always be dear to their hearts, but the rioters' leaders are. 

So in Maharashtra, the two parties notorious for vandalism, the Shiv Sena and its offshoot the MNS, have mostly got away with letting their followers run riot. In fact, in 2010, the government gave their leaders a clean chit in court, when former Mumbai Police Commissioner Julio Rebeiro filed a PIL  asking that damages be recovered from the MNS, the Sena, and the Congress for four  acts of vandalism by their members. The the government's affidavit to the court said that during investigation, it could not be proven that top leaders of these parties (Bal Thackeray, Raj Thackeray and Narayan Rane, the ex-Shiv sena CM who had by then joined the Congress) instigated their followers. The workers had acted "on their own," it said.

However, the affidavit did state that compensation had been recovered in three of the four cases.

 Ironically, while the government was quick to exonerate top leaders, one of the accused himself urged the court to follow the principle of the leader taking responsibility.

"Why should I pay the fine for vandalism?" asked counsel for Shiv Sena trade union leader Sitaram Dalvi, who had been made to deposit Rs 2 lakh as part of the Rs 7.88 lakh fine imposed by the Collector for damages to a hotel by Shiv Sainiks. "Why not the Shiv Sena leaders? It is a vicarious liability. You can't foist it on me. You should foist it on Bal Thackeray or any other leader. They have booked 45 persons but I have been singled out (for paying the fine)." The morcha to the hotel had been led by Sanjay Raut, added Dalvi. 

The judges in turn pointed out that while informing the police on the party's letterhead about the morcha, Dalvi had said he would be leading it. But they gave him a day's time to contact his party bosses for the money. He came back the next day saying he could not do so.

It does not seem the amount was ever recovered.

Interestingly, it was during this hearing that the Bombay High Court directed the government to set up a "Claims Commissioner" as per a 2009 Supreme Court verdict. The deadline given was six weeks, but of course it was ignored. Just as the Supreme Court verdict itself has been ignored. Only now, after the anti-government protests, has the Delhi police asked the Delhi High Court to set up a Claims Commissioner office. 

In 2017, the Punjab and Haryana High Court took suo moto cognizance of the damage caused to public property by the Dera Sacha Sauda followers, who went on a rampage when the sect's leader Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh was convicted of rape. The court ordered that the damages be recovered by attaching Singh’s property. However, it is doubtful that this was done.

To be fair to the Maharashtra government, it has not recovered damages even from the leaders of the 2012 Azad Maidan Muslim rally which erupted in violence. The Raza Academy, the Madinatullah Foundation  and 77 accused were sent notices by the Collector to pay up Rs 2.74 crore for damages caused in the violence which left 2 dead and 63 injured.  

This too was done only after a PIL was filed by two journalists. Eighteen of those who received the notices denied responsibility, including the Raza Academy. The Madinatullah Foundation had provided a fictitious address, so the notice never reached them.

At that time, the Collector had said that recovery would take a year, as each of those who had been sent notices would be given a hearing, and their versions would be cross-checked by eyewitnesses.

In Bulandshahr, no such procedure was followed. Yet the administration not only took the money, but publicised it as an example for others too. They seemed amenable to the message being sent out by one community: "Ok, we pay you, please stop the harassment."  Not too different from what roadside vendors in Mumbai do to local dadas, of both the police and political kind, in return for being  allowed to run their "illegal" stalls. 

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