New Delhi: The Delhi high court, on Monday, came to the aide of Delhi riot survivors and ordered that the compensation forms of the petitioners be accepted and processed and their compensation paid to them immediately.
Riot survivors Neha Fareen and Mohsin had approached the court with a writ petition alleging that the sub-divisional magistrate’s office, the authority responsible for assessment of compensation amounts, was refusing to accept compensation forms and had told the petitioners that the last date of submitting the forms was March 20.
The petition claimed that the SDM’s office had not resumed work till June 8 despite the rules pertaining to the national lockdown having been lifted almost a month ago. The petition claims that on June 12, when Mohsin visited the SDM’s office, he was orally informed that the last day of submitting the compensation forms was March 20 and was asked to come after July 1 for any further queries.
The petitioners had to eventually submit their compensation forms to the SDM office by courier. No action was taken on the couriered forms, either by the police or by the office of the SDM till the writ petition was filed. The matter was argued by advocates Raj Shekhar Rao and Aanchal Tikmani before the bench of Justice Naveen Chawla.
The Delhi government had launched a compensation scheme, the Delhi Government Assistance Scheme for victims of Delhi riots on February 27, under which it promised to compensate riot survivors. The office of the Karawal Nagar SDM was given the responsibility of assessing compensation amounts under the scheme.
The Delhi government had also launched an online portal for filing of relief applications in the second week of March but the portal soon stopped working and forms could only be filed physically at the SDM’s office. During the hearing, Advocate Rao submitted that acceptance of forms had been abruptly suspended on March 20.
The counsel for the SDM told the court that there was no stipulation on the last date of acceptance of forms. Further, with regard to the online portal, the counsel said the ‘grievance is being looked into and will be immediately rectified’.
It has been more than three months since communal riots rocked the National Capital between February 23 and 27. As many as 53 people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands of homes and shops were looted and set ablaze. Petitioners claim they were unable to file their compensation forms because they fled from their homes and soon after they came back, the lockdown was announced.
One of the petitioners, Neha Fareen told the court that she and her family were not in Delhi at the time of the riots but her house was looted in their absence. Fearing for their lives, the family did not return to Delhi till March 24 and when they did, they found that valuables like an LCD TV, a gas cylinder, cash amounting to Rs 1,75,000 and 3.5 tolas of gold had been looted.
A shop owned and run by the second petitioner, Mohsin’s father, was looted on February 25 during the riots. Too scared to stay on, their family fled Delhi on February 28 and returned only on March 16. The Delhi government imposed a lockdown on March 22, restricting movement of individuals and a nationwide, 21-day lockdown was imposed on March 25.
The high court also ordered the SDM to accept compensation forms where the accompanying police complaint has not been converted into a standalone FIR. In cases of looting, individual FIRs have not been registered and various complaints have been clubbed in one FIR alone. On various occasions earlier, the SDM had refused to accept a copy of such clubbed FIRs.
The court ordered that the Delhi government cannot refuse compensation on the ground that an individual FIR has not been registered in case of the riot survivors.
The petition claims that Mohsin had called the police on emergency number ‘100’ multiple times on February 25, when his father’s bakery was being looted, but there was no response.
He later filed a complaint with the Karawal Nagar Police Station at the Eidgah relief camp. When Mohsin visited the police station on June 5, he was told that his complaint had been clubbed with an FIR but the policemen had refused to provide him with a copy of the FIR and had asked him to come later.
Neha claims that she was only able to approach the Karawal Nagar Police Station on June 4, to file a complaint regarding the looting of her house but the police officers refused to ‘receive’ her complaint and asked her to come the next day. The next day when she reached the police station, she was asked to drop her complaint in a cardboard box to maintain social distancing rules of COVID-19.
Neha visited the police station again on June 8 to enquire about her complaint but she was told that her complaint cannot be looked at because of social distancing norms being followed at the police station. She was again asked to come a few days later.
When Neha visited the police station for the fourth time on June 10, she was told that her complaint had been received and a diary number was given to her, but the FIR number was not shared with her.
The sequence of events shared by both petitioners display how the police’s attitude did not make life any easier for riot survivors who were desperately looking for help. For the same reason, the petitioners were forced to send their compensation forms by courier on the June 11, without attaching any FIR.
Advocate Mishika Singh, who had set up a legal cell after the riots and was helping survivors file for compensation said that no standard procedure had been followed by the SDM office from the very beginning. “Every time one of the victims approached the SDM office, a new requirement was informed to them, thus making submission of forms more onerous with each passing day, before abruptly suspending the acceptance of forms on March 20, while the camp was still functioning in the area. The police also refused to accept complaints and register FIRs filed by the survivors on one pretext or the other”.
Both the petitioners had lost their source of livelihoods in the meantime and had depended on charity for meals.
Singh claims as soon as this writ petition was filed, the office of the SDM started moving. “They have accepted the forms of the petitioners and made visits to inspect the damaged property. The police have now filed a status report informing the FIR number, with which the complaints of both the petitioners have been tagged. The police and the SDM office are doing what they are supposed to do only once the matter is dragged to court, after months of harassment is faced by victims.”
When contacted, the SDM of Karawal Nagar, Puneet Patel, said that his office will abide by the directions of the high court. He also dismissed the charge that his office had turned away riot survivors.
Efforts were made to get a response from chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s office but no reply was given to The Wire. A senior government official, requesting anonymity, revealed that in a meeting with senior officials, the deputy chief minister had advised that March 20 should be set as the last date for filing of compensations as fraudulent claims had started surfacing but no official notice had been put up.