Will Gujarat’s riot victims, especially those who were displaced during the carnage that rocked the state following the burning of the Sabarmati Express at Godhra railway station on February 27, 2002, ever be shown Sadbhavna (or compassion) by the Gujarat government by providing them with jobs in government or semi-government agencies? While some compensation has been paid to the victims of 1,169 persons who were officially killed during the carnage, as also to those who suffered injury or those whose property was damaged, this was only following Government of India disbursement of funds. Meanwhile, a distinct view has emerged among human rights activists that such type of compensation is not enough to ensure that the riot victims start living a normal life.
More than one lakh people were internally displaced during the riots. They were forced to flee their home. Thousands have still not be able to return to their original place of living and are living in 86 relief colonies built across the state by voluntary agencies. Many who have returned face discrimination at the hands of the powerful persons locally. The United Nations Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) underline that internal displacement “breaks up families, cuts social and cultural ties, terminates dependable employment relationships, disrupts educational opportunities, deny access to such vital necessities as food, shelter and medicine.” It adds, in this framework, IDPs have the right to a decent living, especially seek employment and participate in economic activity.
Recognizing the need of the Gujarat riot victims, following campaign by human rights organizations, the Government of India (GoI) wrote a letter to the Government of Gujarat (GoG), directing the latter to provide compassionate jobs, particularly to the children/family members of those who died in the 2002 riots. The letter said:
* Children/family members of those who died in the riots of 2002 should be given preference in recruitment in para-military force, IR battalions, state police forces, public sector undertakings and other state and central government departments by giving necessary age relaxation.
* The central government/state government should launch a special recruitment drive to accommodate eligible members from riot affected families.
* Those who have lost their job should be allowed to rejoin by treating the period of absence as “die-non”.
* Those who had to leave their jobs due to riot and have already crossed the age of superannuation may be given necessary pension benefits by relaxing the normal rules to the extent possible.
Six years have passed after the GoI letter, but neither the GoI nor the GoG has moved towards providing any jobs to the riot victims. In between, in September 2011, the Gujarat High Court disposed of a plea by Gagan Sethi, member, Special Monitoring Group of the National Human Rights Commission, Delhi, and an NGO, Antarik Visthapit Hakk Rakshak Samiti, Vadodara, for employment to riot victims on compassionate ground. The High Court refused to direct “Gujarat to provide compassionate appointments to the dependents of riot victims”, to quote from a note prepared on the demand. Arguing against the Sethi’s and NGO’s plea, the state government had told the High Court that it had “no knowledge” of any directions from the Government of India in this regard.
This forced the petitioners to approach the Supreme Court in February 2012, saying that “the GpI as well as the GoG has, time and again, announced various policy decisions through resolution and other correspondence by introducing rehabilitation and relief schemes in order to provide reparation to the riot victims and affected persons. But these announcements have largely remained on paper.” The special focus of the petition was on jobs on compassionate ground to riot victims. The petition said, on April 27, 2007, the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, addressed a letter to the Chief Secretary, Government of Gujarat, to not just provide “additional ex-gratia amounts towards rehabilitation and relief of the victims of communal riots”, but also jobs. The Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India wrote to the Gujarat government “to provide compassionate appointment to the children/family members of those who died in the 2002 riots.”
This, it was suggested, would be addition to an ex-gratia payment of Rs 3.5 lakh each in case of death, involving 1169 cases; and assistance to the tune of Rs 1.25 lakh to those suffered from serious injury, involving 2,548 cases. It also pointed towards certain other issues like no monetary compensation to the rape victim had been provided for, and there were “many discrepancies in the disbursement of the relief sanction by the Gujarat government”.
The discrepancies pointed out included:
1. During the 2002 communal violence in Gujarat, many people died and lost their family members, but the government sought to be restrictive in their rehabilitation processes only to such persons as were registered in state government records. “Such restrictive interpretations do not bring succor to those who are totally affected to the extent of losing all their records and papers”, the petition reads.
2. Due to the 2002 communal violence many uninsured residential /commercial properties were destroyed for which many of the affected had not received any compensation from the Governments.
3. It is the duty of both GoG and the GoI to rehabilitate the 2002 victims but that the governments chose only to deliver relief to only selected groups of riot affected citizens and not to all those who were affected.
The argument further said, the compensation was not enough. It gave the instance of the Gujarat earthquake victims, saying, they received the following amount for completely destroyed houses – to those with a built up area of up to 25 sq metres Rs 50 000; those with a buildup area of up to 35 sq metres Rs 70,000, and those with built up area of up to 45 sq metres Rs 90,000. They also received assistance at the rate of Rs 2000 per sq metres. In sharp contrast, “the compensation distributed to the riot victims in 2002 as per the government resolution dated was Rs Rs 25,000 to be paid to partly damaged kaccha and pakka houses, and up to Rs 50,000 for completely damaged houses.” Not just this; the GoG “had not disbursed the compensation amounts among the all the eligible victims in full measure”, it added.
Meanwhile, the GoI has told the Supreme Court that it would “decide” on providing jobs to the kin of riot victims on compassionate group by September 16. Appearing as additional solicitor general, Indira Jaising also submitted that the court would be informed by then about what action the GoI had taken so far to implement its scheme floated in 2007, particularly a letter written by the GoI to the GoG on May 14, 2007 on providing employment on compassionate ground to those who had suffered during the communal riots and were internally displaced.
— Rajiv Shah