5 March 2023 6:25 AM GMT
An inquiry commission needs to be set up for an impartial investigation to establish the whole gamut of factors that contributed to the 2020 north-east Delhi violence, and to determine the adequacy of the response of the state and its instrumentalities before, during, and after the riots, suggested former Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur. “The whole nation deserves to know what...
An inquiry commission needs to be set up for an impartial investigation to establish the whole gamut of factors that contributed to the 2020 north-east Delhi violence, and to determine the adequacy of the response of the state and its instrumentalities before, during, and after the riots, suggested former Supreme Court judge Madan Lokur. “The whole nation deserves to know what happened here in February 2020.”
Justice Lokur was speaking on February 25 at an event organised by the Constitutional Conduct Group and Karwan-e-Mohabbat to commemorate the third anniversary of the communal violence that broke out in February 2020 in the capital.
The former judge, who is a member of a citizens committee that released a report titled ‘Uncertain Justice: A Citizens Committee Report on the North East Delhi Violence 2020’, said :
“In the days leading up to the riots that broke out in North East Delhi during the protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act, many incendiary speeches were delivered against the picketers in Shaheen Bagh threatening that the area would be cleared by force. This indicates that some sections had resolved to break up the protest even if it required the use of lethal force and violence. A union minister went to the extent of encouraging the crowd at a Bharatiya Janata Party rally to chant ‘Desh ke gaddaro ko, goli maaro saalo ko’ (shoot the traitors of the nation). This inflammatory rhetoric foreshadowed the violence that eventually broke out at the end of February 2020. What surprises me is that the police allegedly did not realise that a major communal unrest was brewing. They must have known that the stage was being set for a communal riot, but they chose not to do anything about it.”
Justice Lokur said that the Union Home Ministry delayed the deployment of additional forces in the violence-hit areas, even as the riots continued unabated between February 23 and 26, 2020. Despite the Delhi police receiving several alerts on the day the riots broke out, additional forces were deployed only on the last day, the former judge claimed. He criticised the response of the home ministry which has command over the Delhi police and the central paramilitary forces, as wholly inadequate. He said,
“The strength of the police personnel sent to the area was grossly insufficient to stem the spread of communal violence. That is also why more than hundred officers were injured during the riots. If deployed in proper numbers and with a proper security crackdown, the police could have stamped out the violence within 24 hours. The inaction and negligence of the government and the police resulted in lives and livelihoods being lost.”
Not only this, but the Delhi government has also failed to ensure timely and adequate relief and compensation to those affected by the violence, Justice Lokur highlighted. He explained, “Even the form that needs to be submitted to claim compensation is terribly complex – so complex, in fact, that even lawyers find difficulty in filling it.”
Justice Lokur further alleged that the process of approving the compensation payable to victims of the riots by the government and the claims commission is riddled with delay, even though they needed the money the most immediately afterwards. Only seven per cent of the applications have been considered till date and others have not received compensation yet, he said. “It has been three years. Even in cases where compensation has been awarded, the quantum is not commensurate to the harm suffered.”
“Monetary compensation is not everything,” he said, while speaking about the inadequacy of the government response and the need to incorporate more components in the compensation package awarded to survivors of the riots and the families of the victims. He said:
“People who suffered major physical injuries or handicap would require medical assistance. Long-term medical care is expensive. The government should do something – pay the hospital bills of the victims, pay for the medicines they need. Their responsibility does not end with disbursing a one-time payment. Monetary compensation is not everything. Many survivors today are living with trauma and constant fear. Children who witnessed the horrors experience a host of psychological problems today. They need counselling. They need to be reintegrated into society. Therefore, victim compensation should not only have a monetary component, but should also consider the physical injuries or handicap suffered by the survivors, and the debilitating effect of the Delhi riots on their mental health.”
Justice Madan Bhimrao Lokur is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. He was elevated to the bench of the Delhi High Court in 1999 and subsequently became the Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court and the Andhra Pradesh High Court. He was then appointed as a judge of the apex court in 2012, where he served for six years until his retirement in 2018. Post-retirement, he was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Fiji as a part of its non-resident panel, and also serves as a member of the International Advisory Board of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute.