Election Commission compensates slain CRPF jawan’s wife after 18 years
Officials said only two such cases were found related to Jammu & Kashmir and were being immediately addressed. The Election Commission is working out the modalities to ensure such payments are expeditedUpdated: Sep 17, 2020 21:46 IST
When Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper Ramesh Kumar died in the line of duty during the 2002 Jammu and Kashmir elections, Rs5 lakh was the least his widow, Pramila Devi, expected as the compensation she was entitled to. Devi never imagined it would take her 18 years and repeated reminders to get the compensation.
“The soldier died due a grenade being thrown at the polling station where he was working during the 2002 elections in Doda district of eastern Jammu,” said an official familiar with the matter.
The Commission unanimously ordered the transfer of Rs 20 lakh into Devi’s bank account after she had an email sent to him last month about the pending payment around two decades after Kumar played a part in ensuring what has been described among fairest electoral exercises in the erstwhile state. The elections ushered in an extended spell of peace in the region, where rigged polls in the 1980s are widely believed to have triggered a protracted insurgency.
Devi, in her email, said that her husband had died while battling the Lashkar-e-Taiba at a polling booth in Doda during the 2002 elections. He was 31 years old and belonged to Haryana.
“The compensation that the Commission provides has not been given to us,” she wrote. “I had written to you in December as well to apprise you of the situation… I request you to kindly help me get the compensation that has been due for over 18 years.”
Devi was barely 28 years old when her husband died and had two sons, aged seven and two. In 2002, she made ends meet on the pension provided by the CRPF, which was Rs 5,025 back then. A resident of Bhiwani, she told Hindustan Times, that they didn’t even have a house in those days.
“We didn’t know that the Election Commission gives compensation,” said Devi. “We were watching a case on TV and decided to file an RTI last year. Once the confirmation came, I wrote to the chief election commissioner,” said Devi.
“They first sent us Rs 5 lakh, and five days later sent 15 lakh,” Devi said. She now receives Rs 23,000 per month as pension from the CRPF. Her younger son, Aakash, is pursuing B.Tech.
In the email dated August 10, Devi wrote to Arora that Jammu & Kashmir’s chief electoral officer did not respond to her reminders for the compensation. Devi was entitled to Rs 5 lakh in 2002, but the Commission ordered the Rs 20 lakh transfer citing “extenuating circumstances” of the case. The families in such cases are currently entitled to Rs 10 lakh through cheques.
The Jammu and Kashmir CEO had written to the Commission after an inquiry was sent stating that no request for ex-gratia payment had been received from the family.
Arora emailed Devi on August 26, and in a rare gesture apologised for the delay and thanked her for her husband’s sacrifice once the compensation was processed. He has also written to all state election commissions to assess if any such cases were still pending with them.
“Although money cannot compensate for his loss, but I would like to apologise for the delay and assure you that your husband’s sacrifice will not be forgotten,” Arora wrote in his email.
The Commission has also asked the chief electoral officers to create a digital database to track the settlements of such legacy and all future claims.
“A stern view has been taken of the institutional failure and lack of sensitivity, bordering on apathy, on part of the administrative machinery, which failed to respect the memory of the departed,” Arora said in the letter, a copy of which HT has seen.
For the Commission, however, processing the payment is not the end of the line. The EC has ordered an inquiry to probe whether any cases similar to that of Devi are still pending. Some states have asked for more time to submit the report, which has already been filed by 11 states on September 10. Officials said only two such cases were found related to Jammu & Kashmir and were being immediately addressed.
The Election Commission is working out the modalities to ensure such payments are expedited, they added.
“The idea is that once a death on duty is confirmed, the ECI [Election Commission of India] will directly transfer the compensation into the bank account of the next of kin if available,” said an official on condition of anonymity.
Former chief election commissioner S Y Quraishi said since such payments are sensitive, they are normally processed as soon as possible. “Such cases of severe delay are rare,” said Quraishi. “Bank transfers make sense, as salaries and other benefits, too, have moved to that platform.”