Monday, July 06, 2015

Supreme Court admits plea seeking compensation to 2002 Gujarat riot victims equal to victims of Muzaffarnagar

Gagan Sethi
By Our Representative
The Supreme Court of India has admitted an appeal filed by senior human rights activist Gagan Sethi of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Ahmedabad, asking for further compensation and rehabilitation of the victims of the 2002 riots in Gujarat on the lines of what the court had ordered for the victims of Muzzafarpur riots in UP, which took place two years ago.
A statement from the CSJ, which has been fighting for fair compensation to the Gujarat riots victims ever since the 2002 riots, says, “A bench comprising of Justice Anil R Dave and Kurien Joseph passed and orders admitting the appeal after hearing Sanjay Hegde senior advocate for the petitioner, and Tushar Mehta, additional solicitor general for the Union of India.”
Referring to the Gujarat High Court order of 2011 which said that it could not look into employment of kin of riots victims on compassionate ground as it was a policy matter, Mehta reportedly wanted the apex court to dispose of the appeal, given the passage of time, even as contending that no compassionate appointments could now be made for children of the 2002 riot victims.
Hegde, however, argued, the High Court judgment on this “was not in terms of the Supreme Court's judgment of 2004”, and that there was “continuing need for further schemes of relief.” The appeal has been put on full hearing for a later date.
Controversy around compensation to riot victims goes back to 2008, when the former UPA government announced than an ex-gratia amount of Rs 3.5 lakh or more to the kin of the victims who lost their lives during the riots – in all, 1169 people were to be paid compensation, including 59 persons who died in the train burning on February 27, 2002 at Godhra. Another Rs 1.5 lakh was to be paid to each of the 2,548 persons injured.
The announcement said, the total package of money should be equivalent to 10 times the compensation paid by the state after riots, minus the amount already paid will be paid for financial loss due to damage or loss to residential, commercial and industrial properties.
The process of distribution of this package was to be completed before October 2008. The state government had to verify the claims, distribute compensation and issue utilization certificate to the Government of India within 45 days, till December 15, 2008.
Apart from this, compassionate recruitment in government service was to be given to children/family members of deceased victims in recruitment by giving necessary age relaxations.
Finding that the Gujarat government was taking a “narrow approach” to identify riots victims, the CSJ approached the High Court, along with Antakrik Vistaphit Hak Rakshak Samiti (AVHRS), filing a Public Interest Litigation. In lieu of this petition, the Gujarat High court has passed orders at different stages for the disbursement of compensation, CSJ said.
However, in 2011, the PIL was set aside asking the state government to speed up payment of compensation, making CSJ approaching Supreme Court in 2012 saying there are still “gaps”, and a “huge chunk of the affected population” has been left unaddressed. It also said, Gujarat government was taking a “very limited scope in terms of disbursement of the compensation, in comparison to the 1984 Sikh riot, where the widows and old age persons were paid a pension at a uniform rate of Rs 2500 per month for the whole life.”
The plea to the Supreme Court wanted constitution of a committee under the ombudsman to verify the claims of compensation against the damages to property; payment of compensation to families living in rented houses who were not able to avail the due compensation, as they did not have house documents in their name; compensation to people who have had permanent disability due to injury during the riots; job to the orphaned because of the riots and now are of age; and a permanent pension to the widows of those killed during the riots.
After hearing both the sides, the apex court admitted the appeal and placed it for a full hearing on a future date. Welcoming the development, well-known human rights activist Shabnam Hashmi said, this suggests that the “fight for justice is still on despite dark times.”
Former Planning Commission member Sayeda Hameed said, “The news from the Supreme Court gives me reason to hope. Today begins the three day mourning for Hazrat Ali and Ramadan takes on added meaning. It also marks the fact that in Shahadat (literally means 'witness') is the ultimate victory. During times like these, news like this is fresh rain on parched earth.”

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