On July 21, 2021, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath put out a tweet in Hindi in which he “appealed to the youth not to get misled by anyone.” He further wrote, “Nobody can do anything wrong. Those who want their property confiscated can commit wrong deeds (‘galat karya’).” He issued this warning after distributing appointment letters to excise inspectors. It has been the government’s standard template for dealing with almost everyone – people, gangsters and even political rivals.
So, can UP govt attach property?
They actually have a law. Threats of invoking the stringent UP Gangsters Act have become commonplace in Yogi land.
Section 14(1) of the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, 1986, states: “If the district magistrate has reason to believe that any property, whether movable or immovable, in possession of any person, has been acquired by a gangster as a result of the commission of an offence triable under this Act, he may order attachment of such property whether or not cognizance of such offence has been taken by any court.”
The Act speaks about attaching property and not “destroying” it. However, there are examples that can be construed as misuse or misinterpretation of the Gangsters Act as part of hard messaging. This leaves scope for individuals to challenge the action taken, particularly if it is destruction of property.
Whose property have they confiscated so far?
It isn’t just confiscation, the state government has gone ahead and razed properties of many in the state.
The UP home department has claimed that the government has seized and demolished property worth Rs 1,000 crore, allegedly illegally acquired by gangsters in the state, over the past four years.
According to the UP Government, land from the seized properties will be used to build affordable homes and township projects for the poor.
ADG Prashant Kumar said that between January 2020 and April 2021, as many as 5,558 cases under the Gangster Act have been registered against at least 22,259 associates of these 25 notorious gangsters. Additionally, properties worth crores have been confiscated.
Here are a few instances:
1. Vikas Dubey: History-sheeter and gangster-turned-politician Vikas Dubey was encountered by the UP police on July 10, 2020 after he and his accomplices shot and killed eight policemen who had gone to arrest him on July 2, 2020. But before he was encountered, officials on July 4, 2020 had razed his house. As per Kanpur inspector general Mohit Agarwal, “the fortified one-storey house, built in 2013 over four bighas in the middle of the village, was a hub of criminals.
2. Atiq Ahmed: Former Samajwadi Party MP Atiq tops the list of gangsters whose properties were either seized or demolished by the Yogi government. The Prayagraj Development Authority (PDA) demolished his palatial house on September 22, 2020. Atiq is currently lodged in Sabarmati jail in Gujarat. The mafia-turned politician has at least 70 cases against him. The UP police either seized or razed his illegal properties worth more than Rs 3,250 crore.
3. Mukhtar Ansari: Gangster-turned-politician Ansari has the maximum properties that were either razed or seized, after Atiq Ahmed. The UP government has demolished multiple illegal properties of Ansari and his aides almost worth Rs 179 crore spread across the state.
4. Anti-CAA protesters: The UP government ordered the protesters to pay damages, or face the seizure of their property (recovery), for allegedly engaging in acts of vandalism. In the wake of the anti-CAA protests, the police registered 510 ‘recovery’ cases against 7,304 people.
Taking inspiration from the UP Act, BJP Bengaluru South MP Tejasvi Surya appealed to the Karnataka CM to emulate the Yogi government and confiscate property of rioters to compensate for the loss to public property.
5. Demolition of alleged illegal properties of former SP leaders: On June 22,2021, Etah district administration demolished alleged illegal properties of former SP MLA Rameshwar Singh Yadav and former district council president Jogendra Singh Yadav. The leaders had allegedly encroached upon the land and constructed their house, where they lived for 20 years.
6. Oxygen shortage rumour-mongering: During the peak of the pandemic in April, 2021, when various parts of the nation were facing a shortage of oxygen, Yogi Adityanath instructed officials to seize the property of those who “spread rumours on oxygen shortage”, while calling oxygen shortage reports mere rumours.
What is the legal status?
Legally, property seizure is a long process and it can happen only after issuing a recovery notice after the charge sheet is filed. Some get a stay order from the court, but many don’t. But, is it legit to destroy property without it being mandated by courts?
When it comes to destroying or even confiscating property, the government has to follow the due process of law. Supreme Court Advocate Sanket Yenagi said, “The government has to refer the matter to adjudicating authority which has a jurisdiction under the statute. The adjudicating authority has to decide as to whether the government should be permitted to confiscate or raze property.”
In simple terms, there needs to be an umpire between the government, which is one party, and the person whose property the government wants to attach or destroy. Not just that, the advocate also says that sufficient time needs to be given after a notice is served for the other party to defend his/her property. “If a notice has not been served and sufficient time is not given for defending the property, it could be construed as an arbitrary action,” the advocate affirmed.
The UP police filed charge-sheets in 312 cases of the total 510 cases that were registered after the anti-CAA protests. Eventually, final reports were filed in only 39 cases. The recoveries added up to a small percentage of the damages the state government had sought. A sum of Rs 23.36 lakh was recovered from demands that were adding up to Rs 1.73 crore.
In 2020, the respective courts gave verdicts in 594 cases under the Gangster Act. While 489 of the judgments were in the government’s favour, the rest 105 were against it. Showing a stark difference, from January 1 to March 6, judgments were pronounced in 822 of the cases, of which 795 were in the government’s favour and only 27 were against it. In relation to the cases in which the court decision came against the government, appeals have been filed against 27 such decisions in the last 14 months.
According to the data, the largest number of properties seized since January last year is from Gautam Buddh Nagar (Noida). Properties worth Rs 100 crore have been seized.
What have the courts said?
In November, 2020, the Allahabad High Court noted that the Uttar Pradesh police was “thoroughly” misusing the UP Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act. The court said this while hearing a case where an individual was slapped with multiple charges in five cases on the basis of a single recovery.
In 2019, a Badaun court too had issued notices to the district magistrate and the police chief over allegations of misuse of the Act.