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Crime and compensation

Victims of mass violence continue to await politically judicious decisions, writes Teesta Setalvad.

india Updated: Apr 07, 2007 23:34 IST

Decades after police brutality was brought centre-stage in case after case of custodial deaths, and rulings for compensation were delivered by a proactive higher judiciary, victims of mass violence have to still await politically judicious decisions for reparation even when their lives, dignity and properties have been destroyed due to actions of commission and omission.

We have had judicial decrees recognising custodial deaths as a crime and amounts disbursed by our courts in recognition of the loss suffered when a life is taken away. Each time it has required protracted struggles through the courts by individuals, not established state compensation/reparation policy, for this compensation to be doled out. Similarly, though mass violence, communal or caste-driven, is possible due to the abdication of basic, Constitutional functions and duties by both the political class and the omnipresent and supposedly neutral public administration, including the police, victims have had to wait even longer for justice, be it through the courts or through policy decisions.

Victims of Delhi (3,000 Sikhs massacred in 1984), Bhagalpur (over 1,200 persons in 1989), Bombay (1992-1993) and Gujarat (over 2,500 Muslims massacred in 2002), have had to await politically judicious decisions for adequate amounts of compensation for loss of life.

Victims of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom had to await the July 5th 1996 judgment of Judge Anil Singh, delivered 12 years after the massacre in Delhi, during which appellant Bhajan Kaur argued for enhancement of the meager Rs 20,000 per victim doled out.

In this civil writ petition No 1429 of 1996, the short question to be decided was whether an ex-gratia payment of Rs 20,000 to a widow or family of a person killed during riots would be in consonance with Article 21 of the Constitution. The judge, in his judgment, elaborated upon the ‘duty and responsibility of the State to secure and safeguard life and liberty of an individual from mob violence’ and clearly held that the State cannot hide its own complicity on the impotent plea that since the violations are committed by private persons, it is not accountable.

The judgment elaborated on the writ and scope of the right to life: “Communal violence takes place due to the weakness, laxity and indifference of the administration in enforcing law and order. If the authorities act in time and act effectively and efficiently, riots can surely be prevented. Message must go to the mischief mongers that the administration means business and their nefarious designs would be thwarted with an iron hand…. (9) The sweep of Article 21 is wide and far reaching. Article 21 is not to be restricted to the violation of right to life and liberty committed by the State alone. That right is also to be protected and safeguarded by the State from being violated or interfered with by private individuals. ….(10) Article 21 is the Nation’s commitment to bring every individual or group of persons within its protective fold. This Nation belongs to members of all the communities… Equality before the law and equal protection of laws is ensured to them by Article 14 of the Constitution ...”

It were these fundamental findings in Judge Anil Singh’s judgment that helped the present UPA government, in 2005, to formulate its compensation package for the Sikh victims of the 1984 massacre. This package was enhanced in 2006. Surprisingly, previous governments that had successfully politicised the issue of the anti-Sikh massacre, stopped short of executing a policy that would benefit Sikh widows and victims. The recently announced Rs 105 crore package for the Gujarat carnage victims of 2002 hence follows the policy pattern set by the UPA government when it announced the earlier package for Sikhs.

While the policy is welcome and overdue, some issues remain. Gujarat 2002 victims have been consistently litigating in the Gujarat High Court in petition 3217/2003 for an accountability in the deliverance of the compensation package and enhancement of the package itself. This petition also questions the bona fides of the Gujarat government in returning Rs 19-odd crores to the Centre in March 2003 when over 70 per cent of victims had not received any compensation for destruction of homes, at all. The Gujarat HC even authorised survivor groups to collect district-wise data of damage to life and property. The data, running into over 8,000 pages has been presented before the Court and will now also be placed before the Central government for an enhancement in the recently announced compensation package.

The detailed survey conducted by representatives of the victim survivors group, Citizens for Justice and Peace, has been concluded after visits to over 10,000 homes in the 17 districts. There are two issues related to housing compensation. The state government declared policy limits the housing compensation to Rs 50,000 per home destroyed and detailed analysis of FIRs and panchnamas show that the losses suffered are far greater. Therefore, in policy terms, the amount needs to be enhanced. Secondly, the detailed survey to be published within a fortnight reveals that Gujarat’s claims of compensation are a cruel farce on the victims as in barely 25-30 per cent cases has the maximum of Rs 50,000 been paid at all.

Of the 1,146 homes surveyed in Anand district, 112 homes have received between Rs 2,000-5,000 (when damages suffered are on an average Rs 1,50,000 per home and even as per the meager scheme, Rs 50,000 could have been allocated). Shockingly, nearly 22 per cent homes have received no monies at all.

Hence, while welcoming the UPA government’s compensation package, victim survivor delegations will urge that the following issues are also taken into consideration: Compensation for Victims of Sexual Violence must be included in the compensation package. The Centre must expand this scheme to include compensation for at least 400 women and girls who were victims of brute sexual violence. Secondly, there has been no acknowledgement and reparation for over 10,000 persons in Gujarat who today live as abandoned internally displaced persons on their own land with no right to legal housing, without BPL and ration cards. They have in effect been denied basic citizenship rights.

The Centre must ensure that their new places of residence are 1) transferred in their names; 2) they receive state government papers including ration cards and BPL cards ; 3) that they are on the state’s electoral rolls.

(The writer is Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace)

First Published: Apr 07, 2007 23:29 IST