The Supreme Court has admitted an appeal filed by Gagan Sethi of the Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedabad, asking for further compensation and rehabilitation of the victims of the 2002 riots in Gujarat. A bench comprising of Justice Anil R Dave and Kurien Joseph passed orders admitting the appeal after hearing Sanjay Hegde senior advocate for the petitioner, and Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general for the Union of India. Mehta urged the court to dispose of the appeal, given the passage of time and contended that no compassionate appointments could now be made for children of the victims. Hegde submitted that the High Court judgment was not in terms of the Supreme Court’s judgment of 2004 and that there was continuing need for further schemes of relief. He urged the court to consider greater relief measures to the Gujarat riot victims on the lines of what the court ordered for the victims of Muzzafarnagar, UP.
The court thereafter admitted the appeal and placed it for a full hearing on a future date. Background of the case:
The Government of India had sanctioned a rehabilitation package after the Nanavati report was submitted for the survivors of the 1984 Sikh Riots n 2006. The government had announced on January 16, 2006, that an ex-gratia amount of Rs.3.5 lakh or more would be paid to the kin of the victims who lost their lives during the riots; the announcement gave a sigh of relief to the survivors 20 years after the massacre, which also gave Gujarat riot survivors of 2002 the benefit.
It took 6 years for the largest democratic republic of India, when the United Progressive Alliance-led Central government had at last considered the Gujarat riot 2002 victims at par to the victims of Anti Sikh Riots 1984 and thereby promised to provide compensation to 2002 riot victims. Technically, it meant that the State government and Central government have to share the burden equally, i.e. for the deceased the state and centre has to provide Rs 3.5 lakh each, but the BJP led Gujarat government had outrightly refused to even acknowledge the pain and loss suffered by the victims and declined from giving its share of Rs 3.5 lakh.
Though the compensation promised was not equitable to the 1984 package keeping in mind the depreciation of value of rupees, even then it was a sigh of relief for the victims as well as the NGOs and meant more than just monetary compensation rather acknowledgement of their citizenship.
According to government data, 1169 people had lost their lives in the riots subsequent to the train carnage on February 27, 2002, including 59 persons died in the burning of the train and a total of 2548 persons were injured.
Accordingly, the new package was released as per the description given below:
- Rs. 3.5 lakh to be paid to the kith and kin of 1,169 riots victims in addition to Rs 1.5 lakh, amount paid by the State government;
- A total of 1.25 lakh minus the amount already paid to be paid to 2,548 people injured in the riots; and
- A total package of money equivalent to 10 times the compensation paid by the State after riots minus the amount already paid to be paid for financial loss due to damage or loss to residential, commercial and industrial properties.
It was also provided that entire process of distribution of this special package should be completed before October 2008 and the report of the same had to be sent to the State government. The State government had to verify the claims, distribute compensation and issue utilization certificate to the Central government within 45 days, i.e. December 15, 2008.
Further, in a letter dated May 14, 2007, the State government was informed by the Director in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, in respect of additional Relief and Rehabilitation (R&R) of victims of communal riots in Gujarat, that the Central government had approved to:
- Give preference to children/family members of deceased victim in recruitment by giving necessary age relaxations.
- Launch a special recruitment drive to accommodate eligible members from riot affected families.
- Allow persons who had lost their jobs to rejoin by treating the period of absence as “dies-non”.
- Give necessary pensionary benefits by relaxing the normal rules to the extent possible to those who had to leave their jobs due to riots and have already crossed the age of superannuation.
After the announcement of the package, disbursement was delayed indefinitely. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, and the Antakrik Vistaphit Hak Rakshak Samiti (AVHRS) filed a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) No 14664-2008 in the Gujarat High Court.
In lieu of this petition, the Gujarat High Court passed orders at different stages for the disbursement of compensation. Following is an excerpt from the order that was passed by the honorable high court on 17/3/11.
The High Court took note of the fact that there are still persons who have not been paid the ex-gratia amount and who have not received any compensation at all. The court ordered the following:
“In this connection, for the present, we are not expressing any opinion but give liberty to such individual to bring such matter to the notice of the Collector of their respective districts. The petitioners can also bring such matter of all individual before the respective collector, who will look into the matter and redress the grievances. Counsel for the petitioner will also serve copy of such application to the learned Government Pleader who will obtain instruction from respective collector and file reply affidavit in respect of such claims.
“In the mean time, let rest of the persons be identified and payments be made. If necessary, the respondent – State and its officers may take help of the petitioners for identification of such persons.”
The petition was finally dismissed in the High Court in September 2011. The Central government along with the release of the ex gratia amount, also approved the following:
- Preference to children/family members of the deceased victim in recruitment by giving necessary age relaxations
- Launching a special recruitment drive to accommodate eligible members from riot affected families.
- Allowing persons who had lost their jobs to rejoin by treating the period of absence as “dies-non”.
- Giving necessary pension benefits by relaxing the normal rules to the extent possible to those who had to leave their jobs due to riots and have already crossed the age of superannuation.
The High Court of Gujarat did not pay any heed to this entitlement and said that it is not a policy making body.
Supreme Court Intervention
The Gujarat High Court implemented the order verbatim as mentioned by the Central government, leaving out compassionate appointment to the kin of the deceased, as it felt it was a policy decision outside the jurisdiction of the court.
Given the fact that the State has acted upon the orders passed by the government, there are still gaps that persist and leave a huge chunk of the affected population unaddressed.
Gujarat was given a very limited scope in terms of disbursement of the compensation, in comparison to the 1984 riots, where the widows and old age persons were given pension at a uniform rate of Rs 2,500 per month for the whole life from a prospective date. Wives of those who suffered disability of 70% or more and those who were missing since 1984 were also provided pension at the same rate. The GR dated January 16, 2006, states that the victims of 1984 riots who migrated to Punjab from other states and still continue to live in Punjab and also families who have suffered living in other states should be given a rehabilitation grant of Rs 2 lakh. This has not been provided to Gujarat
This inconsistency in providing the compensation and adequate rehabilitation to the affected families has led to discontent and loss of faith the government. The allocation of the compensation needs a more nuanced understanding so that there are no sections of the affected community who are left out. The government has considered only a narrow section of the affected community for compensation, injured, dead, Residential, and commercial properties.
The matter in the Supreme Court SLP 15284/2012 was filed to challenge the narrow approach of the government.
- As per the government order, only those people have been compensated who were compensated in 2002; however there is still a huge chunk of people who have suffered major losses but have not yet received any compensation for the losses they suffered. It was felt necessary that the government could give a window to such affected people who could on affidavit claim their losses. The window should be given for a stipulated time.
- In order to verify these losses constitute a committee under the ombudsman, who could verify the claims through a due process of inspection and give clearance to the claims.
- In 2002, in lieu of the compensation amount there were also loans offered to people on low interest rates. There are people who took the loan and also paid interest on it. But when the ex-gratia amount was announced, the people who had taken loans were not benefited.
- Several families living in rented houses, who were compensated, were not able to avail the due compensation as all the house documents were in the name of the landlord; this is one category which was not considered.
- The package has not paid any heed to the people who have had permanent disability due to injury during the riots.
- Children who were orphaned because of the riots, and now are of age, should receive employment, as they are still struggling to survive on a daily basis (age group of 18-20).
- A huge mass of affected persons running small business on carts and on roads were uninsured. In the absence of any proof of business they were unpaid.
- Widows and old age persons should receive pension at a uniform rate of Rs 2,500 per month for the whole life from a prospective date. Wives of those who have suffered disability of 70% or more and those who are missing since 2002 may also be provided pension at the same rate.
Compensation paid to Gujarat riot victims at a glance