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In world of govt compensation, Akhlaq & Akbar aren’t same, nor are Pulwama & Sukma soldiers

One might argue that families of soldiers deserve better compensation than farmers because the latter don't die in the line of ‘duty’. But what about sanitation workers?

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In India, people lose their lives to communal tensions, terrorist attacks, sexual assaults, natural calamities or other such tragedies. The government is duty-bound to help such victims and, at the least, share the financial burden of their families.

What is the value of human life in the eyes of the Indian State? Is there a comprehensive and uniform policy to compensate the victims of particular kind of tragedy?

This is not merely a philosophical question as economists and insurance managers spend countless hours to estimate value of statistical life (VSL) – a monetary value assigned to quantify the risk of (or benefit of avoiding) a fatality.

Our research suggests glaring discrepancies in these hurried announcements of compensations. Should the compensation amount depend on extraneous factors like media coverage, political imperatives and even the person’s caste or religious identity? A cursory look at some of the recent cases clearly reveals uncomfortable facts. In the absence of a uniform policy, the quantum of compensation fluctuates not only for different classes of victims, but even within the same class.

Also read: Left and liberals should stop looking for the perfect victim in Delhi riots

Akhlaq vs Akbar, Pulwama vs Sukma

For example, the family of Mohammed Akhlaq, who was lynched in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri — a case that garnered global headlines — received a compensation of Rs 45 lakh, and four flats in Greater Noida from then-Akhilesh Yadav government. However, the family of Akbar Khan, who was lynched in Rajasthan’s Alwar a few months after the Dadri case, received only Rs 1.25 lakh from then- Vasundhara Raje government and another Rs 8 lakh from the government of his native state Haryana. The families of most lynching victims do not receive any compensation and despite the Supreme Court guidelines directing state governments to frame uniform policies of compensation, only three states have done so far.

A similar discrepancy can be observed with the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) jawans killed in the line of duty. The CAPF jawans’ families get Rs 50-60 lakh as per compensation norms. However, the compensation paid to the families of Pulwama victims much exceeded this amount, probably driven by overwhelming national attention, receiving between Rs 2.16 crore and Rs 3.24 crore. This included Rs 35 lakh from the central government and Rs 15 lakh from the newly launched ‘Bharat Ke Veer’ fund.

Many state governments also contributed eye-catching amounts, considerably larger than those given in similar cases previously. For instance, Bihar’s Nitish Kumar announced Rs 25 lakh additional assistance from the chief minister’s relief fund over and above the Rs 11 lakh announced as ex gratia. However, for the jawans killed by Naxals in the deadly Sukma attacks a year earlier, Nitish Kumar had announced only Rs 5 lakh ex gratia. Similarly, the Punjab government provided Rs 12 lakh for Pulwama jawans but only Rs 5 lakh for Sukma jawans.

Also read: Mainstreaming the lynch-fringe

In the (name of) line of duty

There have been some welcome moves towards framing uniform policies of compensation. For instance, the Punjab government has fixed standard rates of ex gratia compensation of Rs 5 lakh for loss of life occurring due to natural calamities, accidents or man-made disasters. And the Maharashtra government has increased the compensation amount from Rs 25 lakh to Rs 1 crore for families of security personnel from the state who die in the line of duty.

Can the state have differential compensation policies depending upon the reason for loss of life? The Maharashtra government pays only Rs 1 lakh as ex gratia to the families of farmers who commit suicide. This is exceptionally meagre, especially in the state with the highest number of farm-related suicides — more than 15,000 farmers over the last seven years. One might reasonably argue that families of soldiers do deserve better compensation because farmers have not died in the line of ‘duty’ unlike soldiers.

But what about sanitation workers who have died in the sewers while in the line of duty? According to the National Commission for Safai Karamcharis (NCSK), the Maharashtra government was yet to pay or confirm payment of compensation in any of the 32 cases of manual scavenging deaths since 1993. A recent RTI application found that only in half of these 814 cases of death in sewers have families received the full compensation amount.

Also read: Maoist insurgency far from over. After Bastar, Naxals’ new laboratory is in south India

‘Benefits’ of differential compensation

Why do politicians prefer discretionary ex gratia payments as opposed to uniform policy?

First, it gives them political ownership. In high-profile cases, it is the the chief minister or the prime minister who themselves announce the compensation, packaged as personalised patronage. Moreover, the very rationale behind ex gratia payments is to obscure the liability of the state. It suits the political class if people don’t view these compensation as owed to them by right, but rather as discretionary extension of support from the ‘mai baap sarkar’.

Second, announcements by political leaders generate media headlines in a way not possible with impersonal bureaucratic transfers mandated by policy. These media headlines, with big figures in high-profile cases, are a valued instrument to quell public anger. Unlike say an enquiry, these payments are the most immediate and visible way to demonstrate action. In Delhi’s Anaj Mandi fire, while Arvind Kejirwal announced Rs 10 lakh for the dead, PM Modi too pledged an additional Rs 2 lakh.

Third, the discretionary nature of these compensations give ample room for the playing out of political agendas and overt political signalling. In fact, political calculations are virtually baked into the quantum of compensation. This creates enough space for political outbidding, and incentivises protests by locals as the only way to get adequate compensation. For example, the relatives of Rakbar Khan (the victim of mob lynching from Alwar, Rajasthan) placed his dead body on the Delhi-Alwar highway demanding the arrest of all the accused and financial support for his family. Similarly, the family of Ravin, one of the accused in Akhlaq’s lynching, who died in custody, received Rs 25 lakh compensation due to pressures from local politicians and community leaders.

What separates the state from particularistic societal organisations are impersonal processes and impartial justice. However, the arbitrary nature of compensations to treat same class of victims differentially lowers the credibility and the dignity of the state.

Rahul Verma is a Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), Delhi. Asim Ali is Research Associate at CPR. Views are personal.

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  1. The word compensation used in the topic is misnomer. Compensation is a judicially adjudged amount awarded to the victims approaching the courts therefor. The proper term for the kind of payments discussed in the topic is EX GRATIA PAYMENTS. The same is granted in acknowledgement of obligations of a welfare state to the citizens in distress. It varies with the type cause of unnatural death and financial health of the individual state concerned. Of late, however, it has been significantly influenced by considerations other than merit for obvious reasons.

  2. Inequality under law and exceptions to the rule of law were Institutionalized by Nehru who defended Ambedkar’s atrocious 9th Schedule to the Government of India Act (1935) also known, with amendments, as the “Constitution”, to the Constituent Assembly with the following benediction:
    “Show me the person and I shall show you the law”.
    For example:
    (a) Fundamental Rights of Articles 14 and 15 that were abrogated by Ambedkar in 1949 to steal from the “haves” for the “have lots” in the name of the mythical “have nots” on the basis of caste, tribe, religion, gender, language, geography, majoritarian voting muscle, and proximity to power which have been steadily growing in collusion with India’s corrupt and incompetent judiciary lacking integrity, have not been done away with but rather remain the leit motif of the Indian Rapeublic.
    (b) Fundamental Rights of Articles 20 and 21 which have been abrogated by exercise of sheer State callousness such as the non availability and non affordability of Legal assistance and the rule of law have been allowed to drift. For example Nehru’s law of 1959 which took away the rights of the tribals to forage and thoroughfare through the forests of the Himalayas, Western Ghats and Dandakaranya,, has seen more than 80, 000 tribal incarcerated in cages like animals by forest officials for decades. (I was told this by Gopal Pillai when he was the Home Secretary). This law has contributed more to the growth of Naxalism and Maoism than any other PANGOLIN* law. or even Nehru’s “social re-engineering” of the North East which has done little ought than further the spread of Christianity and insurgency.
    (c) The abrogation of Articles 25 and 28 of the Constitution in 1959 by Nehru who confiscated the Temples, treasure, lands, water bodies, educational institutions, gymnasiums and other commonwealth of the Brahmana led Savarna Arya and did away with their religious freedoms in gleeful consort with India’s alien inspired and educated Judiciary have been continued ad nauseam by the Indian Rapeublic.

    Whatever followed, known notoriously as Malgovernance, “Four legs good, two legs bad” Jurisprudence, Social Engineering, Reservations and Corruption are natural corollaries,

    *Note: PANGOLIN: An enemy of India who believes in inequality under law, exceptions to the rule of law and persecution of some for the benefit of others. At present, the sole purpose of the Indian Republic, Constitutional or otherwise, is to pamper and provide for certain constitutionally preferred sections of society who the British found useful to hold and exploit India at the cost of those who the British hated and persecuted. The Pangolin is a creature that is unique to India and feeds on ants that are known in nature to be industrious and hard working if not quite as fruitful as bees who flee to better climes. (PANGOLIN is an acronym for the Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Other (alien) Religions-Communist Consensus that usurped the British Mantle and has worn it with elan to loot, plunder, and rape India since 1921 and re write History and laws to their exclusive benefit since 1947)

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