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Epidemics Act 'arbitrarily' used against UP activists, protesters: NAPM demands probe

The gate against which local people are protesting
Counterview Desk
Seeking withdraw of what it has called “malafide FIR” Epidemics Act against activist Richa Singh, working among MGNREGA workers, and residents of Sudamapuri area of Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh, India’s top civil rights network, National Alliance of People’s Movements has sought impartial inquiry into what it calls “questionable obstruction of public pathways by Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC)” by constructing gates.
In a statement, NAPM says, “The authorities have suggested that people take an ‘alternative route’ via the ‘Mall Road’. The locals have objected on the ground that this route has dense forests on either side, and is unsafe for travellers, especially women.”
It adds, “It is indeed intriguing as to how PAC authorities allowed disregard of Covid-lockdown norms by assembling huge number of jawans", wondering, how could it file filed FIR for disobeying public servants and seeking to spread infection of disease dangerous to life against Richa Singh, residents of Sudamapuri Pankaj Mishra, Sakeel, Arvind Srivastav, Vakeel and 20 other ‘unknown’ persons.

Text:

National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) expresses solidarity with the ongoing people’s struggle against alleged arbitrary obstruction of public pathway by the Provincial Armed Force (PAC) of Uttar Pradesh government in Sitapur district. We also express outrage at the fact that instead of taking action against the high-handedness of the PAC, an ill-conceived FIR has been registered against activist Richa Singh and other residents of Sudamapuri, the site of the struggle.
The issue at hand pertains to alleged unlawful construction of barricades at the 90-year old Napier Road in Sudamapuri area of Sitapur in the last week of May. Despite being a public road, officially registered with the Municipality of Sitapur (as per a 2015 government document), Napier road has seen occasional ‘encroachment’ by 11th Battalion of PAC, Sitapur. PAC or Pradeshik Armed Constabulary is armed wing of UP Police, maintained at key locations across the state and functions in specified instances, upon direction from the senior police officials.
Reportedly, on May 29, the PAC stealthily began erecting gates on three corners of the Napier road. When this was intimated to the local officials, the executive officer (EO), Sitapur Municipality, visited the site on the morning of May 30 and assured that the matter would be resolved in 3 days and that no gates must be erected.
However, on the morning of May 31 the PAC suddenly stated erecting gates again. When Richa Singh of Sangatin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (SKMS - NAPM, Uttar Pradesh) and few other women protested this highhandedness, immediately around 500 PAC constabulary descended on the scene and surrounded them, in a clear attempt to scare and muzzle any questioning.
Soon thereafter, other senior officials of the district administration arrived to assess the situation. Later in the day, Richa was called to the Municipality office (Nagar Palika), then to the Collector’s house and then again to the Nagar Palika on the June 1 for discussions regarding the same. However, even as the matter was under consideration, the PAC went ahead and erected the gates after 12 am on June 1.
Women protest construction created by PAC
What was even more outlandish is that the same day (May 31) an FIR was registered under Sec 188 IPC (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant), Sec 269 IPC (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and Sec 270 IPC (malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) as well as Sec 3 of the Epidemic Act, 1897 against Richa Singh, residents of Sudamapuri Pankaj Mishra, Sakeel, Arvind Srivastav, Vakeel and 20 other ‘unknown’ persons! 
Epidemics Act is being used against activists who are working during lockdown to assist the affected people, especially migrant workers
In what has now extended over two weeks, the district has seen multiple citizens delegations visit offices of senior officials as well as protests by people of Sudamapuri and other people’s organizations in the area, demanding dropping of these arbitrary charges. However, in a textbook example of collusion of bureaucratic powers, the district authorities seem to be keen on supporting the PAC, rather than the people of Sudamapuri.
Instead of inquiring into the matter in an impartial way, the authorities have suggested that people take an ‘alternative route’ via the ‘Mall Road’. The locals have objected on the ground that this route has dense forests on either side, and is unsafe for travellers, especially women.
It is indeed intriguing as to how PAC authorities allowed disregard of Covid-lockdown norms by assembling huge number of jawans on the May 31. Moreover, there appears no patent urgency to have pushed this construction without taking the locals into confidence.
Instead, the residents and activists are now being hounded by false charges. A bare perusal of the FIR reveals that it is devoid of any substance and makes completely baseless allegations that Richa Singh and others ‘ran away from the Napier road site’, whereas, in reality, they were very much there, in the presence of all senior district officials.
  • NAPM demands that the FIR against Richa Singh and all other residents of Sudamapuri be immediately withdrawn. An inquiry must be initiated into this entire episode, leading to a completely ill-motivated and factually wrong FIR.
  • We also demand that an independent inquiry be conducted into the issue of arbitrary erection of gates by PAC on what is claimed to be Municipality land and accordingly a quick decision be taken on the right of the local communities to public pathway. 
  • We stand in solidarity with the residents of Sudamapuri and the local people, especially women, who have been resiliently protesting this high handedness of the administration, in Covid times. 
  • We also warn governments against arbitrary use of law, including the Epidemics Act against activists, who are in fact working day and night during lockdown to assist the affected people, especially migrant workers.

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