New Delhi: Despite an order from the Delhi high court on June 22 to immediately accept claims for compensation to riot survivors in the city, the sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) concerned has refused to move on the matter till July 1.
The high court order came in response to a petition filed by riot survivors Neha Fareen and Mohsin, who alleged that the SDM’s office, the authority responsible for the assessment of compensation amounts, had refused to accept their compensation forms, stating that the last date to submit the forms had been March 20.
The two petitioners also alleged that the SDM’s office had not resumed work till June 8, even though government offices had reopened close to a month earlier and that copies of FIRs that clubbed together several complaints of looting were not being accepted. In response, the high court ordered that all FIRs must be accepted.
When the petitioners, armed with the court order, arrived at the office of the SDM in Karawal Nagar on June 23, they were told to come back after July 1.
“A notice said that due to the virus, no work could be done,” Neha Fareen told The Wire. “When I told a man in police uniform about the court order, he told me to go inside and inquire. But when I went inside, they screamed at me and said I should come back after July 1.”
Monis, older brother of the second petitioner, Mohsin, was treated in much the same way.
“I went to the SDM’s office on Tuesday (June 23) at around 12:30 pm. I tried to enter but was told that no one was allowed to go in,” he said. “I asked if staff members were also not allowed. They told me all the staff was inside but no outsiders could enter the premises. They asked me to come back on July 1. When I told them about the order of the Delhi High Court, they ignored me.”
Looting, lockdown and losses
More than three months after communal riots in north-east Delhi left 53 people dead, hundreds injured and thousands without a home or means of livelihood, riot survivors are being given the run-around while filing their claims for compensation. The compensation scheme, named Delhi Government Assistance Scheme, had been launched on February 27 for the victims of the riots. The office of the SDM in Karawal Nagar was given the responsibility to assess the amount of compensation to be granted to survivors under the scheme.
In the second week of March, the Delhi government also launched an online portal to allow the survivors to file their relief applications more conveniently, but the portal soon stopped functioning and forms could only be filed physically at the SDM’s office.
For 24-year-old Neha Fareen, the delay in receiving her compensation means taking more loans from friends and relatives. Her family had not been in Delhi at the time of the riots, but their house was looted in their absence. Afraid of further riots, the Fareens did not return to Delhi till March 24.
“Soon after we got back, the lockdown was announced,” said Neha. “My husband and I made a living by sewing children’s clothes for a wholesaler, earning up to Re 1 per dress. When the factories closed during the lockdown, we lost our income. We spent all our savings on rent and now our bank account is empty.”
Her family of seven was also forced to leave their home and move into one room elsewhere. “Our landlord was a Hindu. After the riots he did not want us to live there anymore. He said. ‘I do not want Muslim tenants,’” said Neha.
By the middle of the lockdown, the Fareens had run out of money. “I didn’t even have enough to buy milk for my 18-month-old child. It was so painful to see him cry with hunger,” said Neha. “That is when I started washing dishes in people’s homes and cleaning houses.”
Mohsin’s father’s bakery had been looted and set ablaze on February 25. His older brother, Monis, told The Wire: “We fled our homes when the violence started. Our neighbours called to tell us that our shop has been burnt down, but we knew nothing could be done. What would have been the point of returning to look at a burnt out bakery? We were fortunate we managed to escape alive. We came back 20 days later.”
Because they have ration cards, Mohsin’s family of eight is able to get two square meals a day. But they have no means of income. “We want to appeal to the government to process our forms at the earliest and to award us the compensation for our loss,” said Monis.
‘Portal of deceit’
Not only is the SDM’s office closed to riot survivors, the high court’s order asking for the online portal to be fixed immediately has also been ignored. Advocate Mishika Singh, who has been working with riot survivors and helping them file their claims for compensation, said the portal has become a means of deceit.
“Earlier when you went to the webpage and clicked on the link to the compensation scheme, it would show an error message and say the page does not exist. After the High Court order, the link takes you to the page for the compensation scheme, it allows you to fill the form, but it does not allow the form to be submitted,” said Singh. “When you click ‘submit,’ the portal generates a dead link. No proof of submission or registration number or code is generated. Without this, there is no proof that you submitted your form online and no way to check the status of your case.”
Singh added: “When some of the riot victims tried to submit their forms on the online portal, they did not understand that the portal was not working properly. Had we (their lawyers) not caught on to the problems on the portal, the survivors would have continued to believe that their forms had been submitted. It seems as if the government is looking for an opportunity to deny the victims’ claims.”
When The Wire had contacted Puneet Patel, the SDM of Karawal Nagar, Puneet Patel, on June 23, he had said his office would abide by the directions of the high court. He had also dismissed the charge that his office had turned away riot survivors.
But five days after the high court order, the SDM’s office remains closed to the riot survivors. Lawyers representing the petitioners claim that on June 24, two days after the high court order, the counsel who appeared in the matter for the Delhi government and the SDM were informed that the order dated June 22 was not being complied with. However, no action has been taken as of now.
Seemi Pasha is an independent multimedia journalist based in Delhi. She can be reached at @seemi_pasha on Twitter.