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Revive dormant cases, compensate heirs of missing — what SC told Maharashtra govt on Bombay Riots

Supreme Court directives followed observation of failure on part of state govt in maintaining law & order & protecting rights of people to live with dignity in 1992-93 Bombay Riots case.

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New Delhi: Observing there had been a failure on the part of the state government in maintaining law and order and protecting the rights of the people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court Friday issued a slew of directions to the Maharashtra government for compensating the families of victims of the 1992-93 Bombay Riots and revival of dormant criminal cases.

The directive came from a three-judge bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul on a 21-year-old plea filed by petitioner Shakeel Ahmed, seeking implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Sri Krishna Committee — constituted in the aftermath of the riots by the state government to probe the violence.

In doing so, the court also noted that it cannot allow the victims to suffer only because “there was a delay in the disposal of the writ petition”.

“Article 21 of the Constitution of India confers a right on every citizen to live with human dignity. Article 21 encompasses itself to live a meaningful and dignified life. If citizens are forced to live in an atmosphere of communal tension, it affects their right to life guaranteed by Article 21,” the bench noted.

It went on to further observe that a constant atmosphere of communal tension is a violation of the constitutional right to life guaranteed to the citizens of the country. The bench pulled up the state government for failing to stop the riots which, according to the court order, left 900 people dead and more than 2,000 injured.

Since “one of the root causes of their suffering was the failure of the state to maintain law and order,” the court held the affected families and persons had the right to compensation from the state.

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Directions to the state

In one of its directions, the court told the state government to make all efforts to trace the legal heirs of the “108 missing persons who could not be compensated because they were untraceable”.

According to the state’s submissions the then government had decided to provide Rs 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 were reported missing after the riots, the state could locate families of only 60 missing persons and had paid them the compensation, it said. Families of the remaining 108 either could not be located or failed to fulfil the formalities, the state government submitted. 

However, the top court in judgement Friday asked the state to make all efforts to “trace the legal heirs” of the missing people and compensate them with the amount that was fixed to be paid to the victims and their families at the time of the riots.

For the purposes of ensuring such families get traced and compensated, the court set-up a three member monitoring committee. To be headed by the member secretary (who is a judicial officer) of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority, this committee will have to submit a compliance report to the top court after ten months, the SC order mentioned. The other two members would be a revenue officer, not below the rank of deputy collector, and a police officer, not below the rank of assistant commissioner of police.

As for the criminal cases that remained dormant because the accused were untraceable, the top court directed the state to immediately constitute a special cell to trace the missing accused so that they can be made to face the trial.

In its submission to the court, the state had said that 97 out of 253 criminal cases were dormant due to reasons mentioned above.

According to the state data, even in cases that went up for trial, acquittals took place in 114 matters, while there were only six convictions, one case got abated and 34 were found to be unrelated to riots.

The SC judgement directed the HC to issue appropriate orders on the administrative side to the courts where the 97 dormant cases are pending. It said the HC must ensure that the concerned courts take appropriate steps to trace the accused.

As it asked the state government to implement Justice SriKrishna Commisison’s suggestions on improvement and modernisation of the police force, the court noted: “We hope and trust that after 75 years of independent, riot-like situations will never arise.”

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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