The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on Tuesday instructed the Sitapur district administration to “be cautious” in proceedings in which people are asked to furnish bonds and sureties. The court told the administration that its “conduct should not be such which reflects arbitrariness and against the principles of natural justice”.
On January 25, while hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) in which activist Arundhati Dhuru claimed that farmers who own tractors faced “financial hardship”
after the district administration demanded “exorbitant personal bonds”, the High Court sought a response from Sitapur administration. According to the litigant, the district administration had demanded personal bonds ranging between Rs 50,000 and Rs 10 lakh, plus sureties, from farmers protesting against the Centre’s farm laws “on the apprehension that they may violate law and order”.
On January 25, the court also asked the government to state “as to under what circumstances such an exorbitant amount of personal bond and two sureties have been asked”.
During the hearing on Tuesday, Additional Advocate General VK Shahi, representing the state government, told the court that notices had been issued to 162 people for executing a bond of Rs 10 lakh and two sureties of the like amount. Shahi said of the 162, 43 people appeared before authorities in the matter and on the basis of a fresh challani report, the proceedings against all of them were dropped “as there is no further apprehension to breach of peace or disturbance of public tranquillity”.
Shahi, however, could not “justify the act” of the Sub-Divisional Magistrates (SDMs) of various divisions working under the Sitapur District Magistrate (DM), who was a respondent in the case.
The government advocate assured Justices Ramesh Sinha and Rajeev Singh that he “shall instruct” the DM “to be careful in future while any such proceedings are initiated so that no unnecessary harassment is caused to any person and further to instruct the SDMs working under him”.
Following the lawyer’s statement, the judges said they hope and trust that the DM and the SDMs “shall be cautious in passing orders in any proceedings of such a nature calling upon the persons to execute personal bond and sureties and their orders, act and conduct should not be such which reflects arbitrariness and against the principles of natural justice”. The PIL was then disposed of by the court.
The PIL had reasoned that not only were the amounts too exorbitant for the farmers they had been sought “merely on the basis of the report of the local police personnel and without providing any opportunity of hearing to such farmers”.
The petition stated that several orders were passed by the SDMs of Sitapur after which the notices were issued on January 19 and other dates to farmers, including women farmers, under Section 111 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, asking them to furnish the personal bonds.
The notice issued on January 19 in Pisawan by SDM Pankaj Rathore read, “It has been brought to notice that in village Satnapur following people [goes on to name 10 persons]…have an internal conflict over protests against the farm Bills etc. Because of this, there is tension… Keeping this in mind, it is necessary to keep opposing sides bound down.”