4 Nov 2022 2:22 PM GMT
Almost thirty years after the communal riots which rocked Bombay in 1992-93 after the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directions for payment of compensation to the families of victims and for revival of criminal cases which are lying dormant.The Court observed that there was a failure on the part of the State Government to maintain law and order and...
Almost thirty years after the communal riots which rocked Bombay in 1992-93 after the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directions for payment of compensation to the families of victims and for revival of criminal cases which are lying dormant.
The Court observed that there was a failure on the part of the State Government to maintain law and order and to protect the rights of the people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
"If the citizens are forced to live in an atmosphere of communal tension, it affects their right to life guaranteed by Article 21.The violence witnessed by Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993 adversely affected the right of the residents of the affected areas to lead dignified and meaningful life. 900 persons died and more than 2000 persons were injured. The houses, places of business and properties of the citizens were destroyed. These are all violations of their rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India", the Court noted.
Stating that "one of the root causes of their suffering was the failure of the State Government to maintain law and order", the Court held that the affected persons had a right to seek compensation from the State Government.
The Court took note of the fact that the Maharashtra Government had decided to provide Rupees 2 lakh compensation to the victims and the same was paid to the legal heirs of 900 dead persons and 60 missing persons. Although 168 persons were reported to be missing after the riots, the State Government told the Court that it could pay compensation to only the families of 60 missing persons, as the other legal heirs could not be traced.
Therefore, the Court directed the State to take all efforts to trace the legal heirs of the 108 missing persons. "The State Government shall pay compensation of Rs.2 lakhs to the legal heirs of the missing persons traced out hereafter, with interest at the rate of 9% per annum from 22nd January 1999 i.e. from the expiry of the period of six months from the date of the second Government Resolution, till actual payment", the Court ordered.
The Court further ordered that the State shall trace other victims who were entitled to compensation in terms of the Annexure to the first Government Resolution but compensation was not paid to them. The victims identified hereafter shall also be paid the compensation with interest at the rate of 9% per annum from 8th January 1994 i.e. from the expiry of the period of six months from the date of the First Government Resolution, till actual payment.
Committee Constituted to monitor the efforts of the State
The Court constituted a Committee headed by the Member Secretary of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority to monitor the implementation of the directions issued by this Judgment. The State Government shall appoint a Revenue Officer, not below the rank of Deputy Collector, and a Police Officer, not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police, who shall be the other two members of the Committee.
A bench comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abhay Sreeniwas Oka and Vikram Nath passed these directions while disposing of a writ petition filed by Shakeel Ahmed in 2001 seeking implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Sri Krishna Committee report, which was constituted by the State Government to probe into the riots.
1992-93 riots "ethnic violence" within the meaning of Legal Services Authorities Act
Senior Advocate Dr Colin Gonsalves, who appeared for the petitioner, submitted that the the Legal Services Authority failed in providing legal aid to the riot victims. He relied on Section 12 (e) of the Legal Services Authorities Act 1987, which mentions that victims of ethnic violence will be entitled to legal aid.
The Court observed that it cannot pass any directions for providing legal aid in view of the passage of time. Nevertheless, it examined the legal argument of Dr.Gonsalves and found merit in it. The Court held that the 1992-92 riots will qualify as "ethnic violence" within the meaning of the Legal Services Authorities Act.
"The term "ethnic" can be narrowly construed as including solely "linguistic" or "racial" groups. If it is given a broad meaning, it will include religion, tribe and caste in group distinction. Looking at the conclusions in the report of the Commission and the response to the recommendations of the State Government in the form of the Memorandum, there is no manner of doubt that communal disharmony between two religious groups was one of the main causes of the riots and violence. There are enough indications in both documents that there was tension between the two religious groups which is one of the major causes of the incidents of violence. Considering the object of the 1987 Act, a broad meaning will have to be assigned to the word "ethnic" for the purposes of considering the entitlement to grant of legal aid. Therefore, these incidents of December 1992 and January 1993 are the incidents of ethnic violence within the meaning of clause (e) of Subsection (1) of Section 12 of the 1987 Act. Hence, on an application being made by the victims of the offence or their legal heirs, legal services could have been provided to them by appointing advocates, who could have assisted the Criminal Courts in terms of subSection (2) of Section 301 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short, 'Cr.P.C.') during the course of trials. Legal services could have been provided to the victims to challenge the orders of acquittal".
The Court however noted that those were the early days of the Legal Services Authorities and that their scope has been widened over the past few decaes.
Expressing a hope that riot situations never occur in India in future, the Court said that should such unfortunate events take place in future, Legal Services Authorities would come to the rescue of the victims.
"We hope and trust that after 75 years of independence, riot like situations will never arise. Unfortunately, if such situations arise, we are sure that the Legal Services Authorities at various levels will come to the rescue of the victims of violence and render legal services to them, keeping in mind the spirit of Section 12 of the 1987 Act".
Revive dormant cases
Responding to the queries of the Court, the State Government disclosed the status of 253 riots cases. 114 cases resulted in acquittal. There were 6 convictions. 1 case got abated. 34 cases were found unrelated to riots. One case is still pending. 97 cases are lying dormant.
The Court surmised that the reason must be that either the accused therein are not traceable or are absconding.
The Top Court directed that the High Court, on the administrative side, must issue appropriate directions to the concerned Courts in which these cases are pending. The High Court must ensure that the concerned Courts take appropriate steps for tracing the accused. The State Government will have to set up a special cell for tracing the accused. As regards the pending case, its trial must be expedited.
The Court further directed that the State Government shall expeditiously implement all the recommendations made by the Commission on the issue of reforms in the police force which were accepted by it.
Case Title : Shakeel Ahmed vs Union of India
Citation : 2022 LiveLaw (SC) 910
For Petitioner(s) Mr. Colin Gonsalves, Sr. Adv. Mr. Sadiq Noor, Adv. Ms. Jyoti Mendiratta, AOR
For Respondent(s) Mr. B. Krishna Prasad, AOR Mr. V. N. Raghupathy, AOR
Summary - Supreme Court issues a slew of directions to the State for payment of compensation to the legal heirs of riot victims who have not yet been compensated- Also issues directions for revival of dormant riot cases.
Constitution of India - Article 21- Failure of State to maintain law and order led to riots- victims have right to seek compensation - If the citizens are forced to live in an atmosphere of communal tension, it affects their right to life guaranteed by Article 21. The violence witnessed by Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993 adversely affected the right of the residents of the affected areas to lead dignified and meaningful life. There was a failure on the part of the State Government to maintain law and order and to protect the rights of the people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the affected persons had a right to seek compensation from the State Government - (Paragraph 10)
Legal Services Authorities Act 1987 - Section 12 (e) - Incidents of December 1992 and January 1993 are the incidents of ethnic violence within the meaning of clause (e) of Subsection (1) of Section 12 of the 1987 Act - Riot victims are entitled to free legal aid (Para 16)
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