In Uttar Pradesh if anyone dies or is disabled during any riot, bandh, hartal or protest then his/her family will be compensated by the so-called 'accused' by paying Rs five lakh for a death and Rs one lakh for a disabled.

The compensation amount will be recovered from the accused protestors.

The accused will not have the right to prove that he/she was not in any way responsible for the death or injury. The deceased or disabled would not be entitled to compensation if he or she were part of the protestors.

On Friday September 23, 2022, the concluding day of the five-day Monsoon session of Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha, the Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath government by voice vote quietly passed the Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property (Amendment) Act, 2022. This further expands the scope of the RDPPP Act passed in August 2020.

Tabling the bill the Uttar Pradesh minister of Parliamentary Affairs Suresh Khanna said that under the previous August 2020 Act there was only provision for compensation in the case of damage to property- public or private. It had no provision for any sort of compensation for death or disability.

The amendment passed states that the tribunal set up under the RDPPP Act would have the power to increase the compensation amount. The money spent on the police investigation to examine the damage to property would also be recovered from the so-called accused.

The demand of the two Opposition legislators present in the house, Congress MLA Aradhna Mishra and BSP MLA Umashankar Singh, to send the bill to a Select Committee, was outright rejected. Incidentally, the amendment was passed when the Leader of the House, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was not present in the Vidhan Sabha.

Interestingly, when the ruling party was hurriedly pushing through the amendment of such far-reaching consequences, Samajwadi party, the main Opposition party in Uttar Pradesh was conspicuous by its absence in the House.

Led by the Leader of Opposition, Akhilesh Yadav, the party MLAs and MLCs had staged a walkout accusing the BJP of not giving replies on price rise and employment and other public related issues. Instead of a symbolic walkout the SP legislators, led by their leader, decided to walk all the way from Vidhan Bhawan to the party headquarters, some three kilometres away.

Uttar Pradesh is the pioneering BJP state government to enact such a stringent law to make protestors pay for dissent. The UP model was followed by Haryana by passing the Recovery of Damages to Property during Disturbance to Public Order Act 2021. Then came the Madhya Pradesh Public and Private Property Damage Resolution and Recovery Act 2021.

The genesis of this draconian law can be traced back to the events of December 19, 2019, when nationwide protests took place on the streets against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed National Register of Citizens (NRC).

In UP at least 24 districts witnessed protests on December 19, 2019. In Lucknow one person was killed in cross-firing when police and protestors clashed. Media and police vehicles were torched. Of all the anti-CAA protest related deaths 70 percent, or 23 deaths, were recorded in UP alone.

People died in police firing and hundreds of dissenters were injured and properties owned by Muslims vandalised. Most of the dead were Muslim daily wagers. Around 3305 people were detained across UP, 112 in Lucknow alone on charges of arson and vandalism.

On the fateful day of December 19 itself Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath issued a stern warning threatening that his government would take revenge on those involved in the "violence over CAA" by auctioning their property to compensate for the losses. "There is no place for violence in democracy" he reportedly said.

On March 3, 2020, Shia cleric Syed Saif Abbas Naqvi and eight others were held jointly as well as separately liable to pay damages amounting to Rs 67 lakhs. Naqvi was served a notice by a Lucknow Tehsildar requiring the amount to be paid within a week, else his property to be seized. A total of four recovery notices were issued against 57 protestors to realise an amount of Rs 1.55 crore.

On March 6, 2020 in a first of its kind step the Lucknow district administration put up banners and hoarding across the city. It displayed 57 large photographs, names and addresses of a select group of people who they accused of damaging public property during the anti-CAA stir. The people appearing in the hoardings were asked to pay damage to public and private property within a stipulated time or have their properties seized.

Taking suo moto notice of the display of such hoarding "to name and shame" anti-CAA protestors the Allahabad High Court on March 8 observed that it was in violation of the privacy of the person.

Asking the Lucknow district administration to immediately remove the hoardings the court held them to be in violation of Article 21. The court maintained that such hoardings with personal details were not legally permitted. The UP government made an appeal to the Supreme Court which refused to stay the UP government decision. And the hoardings are still visible.

A few days later on March 15, 2020 the Yogi government passed the Uttar Pradesh Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Ordinance. It became an Act a few months later in August 2020.

The Act aims at "recovery of damage to public or private property during hartal, bandhs, riots, protests, etc through those accused through claims tribunals with no judicial review by any other courts".

Deviating from the normal legal process in India wherein the burden of proof lies on the accuser (investigating agencies), this Act expects the accused to present evidence of innocence from alleged crimes, on account of simply their being named as accused.

The Law empowers the state government to set up tribunals to decide claims for damage to property. The tribunal is to be headed by a retired district judge (as chairperson) and office of the rank of Additional Commissioner (as member).

On December 3, 2020 the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court stayed the recovery claim issued by the Lucknow district administration stating that the Executive Officer/ADM had no power to issue such a notice in view of the Supreme Court ruling of 2009.

Upholding the High Court order the Supreme Court on February 11, 2022, directed the Uttar Pradesh government to withdraw the recovery notices issued against those involved in the anti CAA protests. The apex court had observed that the action taken by the Uttar Pradesh government in December 2019 was contrary to the rules laid down by the court, as the Uttar Pradesh government itself acted as a "complainant', adjudicator and prosecutor" in the proceedings for the attachment of the properties of the accused. Therefore it was not maintainable.

Following this on February 18, 2022, the UP government informed the Supreme Court that it has withdrawn 274 recovery notices to pay damages for destruction caused to public property during the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December 2019 which had been issued prior to the enactment of the Recovery of Damages to Public and Private Property Act, in August 2020.

However, the Supreme Court bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Surya Kant , subsequently gave the Uttar Pradesh government the liberty to proceed under the new law enacted in August 2020. As such it only gave a temporary relief by directing the UP government to refund recovery already made under the withdrawn proceedings as the law was not in place at that time.

It may be recalled that in 2007 the Supreme Court had taken note of various instances where there had been large scale destruction of public and private property in the name of agitations, bandhs and hartals. To address this apex court had appointed two committees headed by Justice KT Thomas and Senior advocate Fali Nariman.

In 2009 the Supreme Court issued guidelines based on the recommendations of the expert committees. According to this High Courts were entitled to set up machinery to investigate the damage caused and award compensation wherever mass destruction of property takes place due to protests.

Secondly, the rioters could be made strictly liable to pay compensation for any damage caused to property once the nexus between the accused person and the incident is established.

Thirdly, it provided for a claims commission headed by a retired judge to estimate the damage and investigate liability.

The Supreme Court in the Destruction of Public and Private Properties versus State of Andhra Pradesh 2009 held that the cost of damage must be recovered by those responsible through a judicial process and not by the state.

However, despite the Allahabad High Court stern admonition and the Supreme Court also rapping on the Yogi government's knuckles, the Uttar Pradesh government has further strengthened the draconian law by now making the protestors pay for loss and injury to life and even cough up the cost of police investigation.