New Delhi: Northeast Delhi’s Maujpur Chowk area is bustling with activity as usual. The roads remain packed with vehicles throughout the day, with car horns ringing loud. The stench from a long drain permeates the air. Most residents here are migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, who ply through the narrow streets of the locality and struggle to earn a living.
From this scene, one can hardly tell that the area witnessed a communal riot a year ago. But for riot victims, the wounds are still fresh. Their tale belies the government’s claims.
About 200 metres from the Maujpur metro station – a dazzling structure standing on pillars overlooking the open drain, Mohammad Rafi opens his shop of second-hand clothes at 10 am. There is no enthusiasm in his conduct and he appears tired. The wrinkles on his forehead and his teary eyes give away his pain.
“When I saw my burnt shop for the first time, I was rattled to the core,” Rafi’s lips quiver as he speaks. “I felt as if I had been pushed into a grave. I lost my entire life’s earnings and 25 years of hard work in the riot,” he says.
Mohammad Rafi’s two-storey shop was burnt by miscreants during the communal riots on February 24 last year. His father had gifted him the shop 25 years ago. He still cannot understand how and why a riot was triggered in the area.
“On February 23, the riot started here,” he recalls. “All of us closed our shops out of fear and stayed in our houses. The next day, I got a call from someone in the afternoon, telling me that my shop has been set ablaze. My family and I made hundreds of calls to the fire department and the police, but there was no response. My shop was burning in front of me, but the administration did nothing.”
“Later, the Arvind Kejriwal government had assured that they would make up for the loss,” adds Rafi. “But we are now forced to beg. People who gave us loans are seeking payment. I owe Rs 4.5 lakh but I am not able to repay it.”
Mohammed Rafi claims that he incurred a loss of Rs 12 lakh in the riots, but the Delhi government handed him a mere Rs 51,700 and brushed the matter aside.
“Much more has been spent sitting idly at home during the lockdown,” he said. “It has been a double whammy for people like us. First, the riots destroyed our livelihoods and families and then the lockdown broke our backs. I don’t know when we will be able to stand on our feet again.”
The next shop is owned by Moinuddin and it still bears the marks of violence. The walls of the three-storey building are still burnt black. “More money will be spent on painting it than the compensation paid by the government. Most of our stuff inside was charred. Who will pay for it?” asks Moinuddin.
“I opened my shop at around 9:30 am [on February 23, 2020] as per routine,” he recalls. “That‘s when I saw a huge crowd had gathered here. Earlier, Kapil Mishra had delivered a provocative speech. I closed my shop out of fear and went home. Sometime later, I saw my shop in flames on TV. I informed the police and the fire department, but no one came. The shop kept burning for three days. Later I reached here myself, called the fire brigade and doused the flames to save whatever little remained.”
Being a victim of the Delhi riots, Moinuddin had claimed Rs 11 lakh for his loss, but he only received Rs 75,050 from the government.
Rafi and Moinuddin’s plight is shared by several other victims of the 2020 Delhi riot. Documents obtained by The Wire under the Right to Information (RTI) Act reveal that for shops burnt during the Delhi riots, the government has paid compensation that is less than 10% of the amount claimed.
Out of 73 shopkeepers who had applied for compensation from areas such as Maujpur and Ashok Nagar which fall under the jurisdiction of Shahdara sub-divisional magistrate (SDM), only 55 have received it.
For 55 aggrieved shopkeepers who had claimed compensation for damages worth a total of Rs 3,71,58,200, the government has paid only Rs 36,82,967 as of December 2020. It is only 9.91% of the total amount claimed.
Eleven other people have been handed compensation amount worth Rs 2.44 lakh from the administration, even though they did not make any claims.
According to information provided by Shahdara SDM Debasis Biswal, 17 people in the area had complained about their houses being burnt down, out of which only 16 were compensated. In connection with fatalities, six families were compensated while 65 others were paid for injuries.
The administration claims that the amount disbursed is based on a survey conducted by them. The losses incurred in the Delhi riots were jointly assessed by the BSES, PWD and SDM departments.
Documents tell a sorry tale
However, according to the documents, there is a huge difference between claims made by the victims and the assessment done by the administration.
Ganesh Kumar owns a shop on the main road of Noor Elahi. He claimed damages worth Rs 10 lakh for the losses incurred during the riots. But he received only Rs 1,00,700. Similarly, Jaybir Singh had claimed Rs 22 lakh for his medical store located in Mohanpuri, Maujpur, but he received only Rs 5 lakh.
Kamruddin Khan sought Rs 13 lakh for the damages to his shop situated near Ashok Nagar mosque. But he only got Rs 1.79 lakh from the administration. Meanwhile, Aisha Begum, who runs a shop in Street Number 5, Ashok Nagar, claimed Rs 4 lakh, but the government gave her a compensation of Rs 22,808 only.
Similarly, Mohammad Asif and Shah Rukh Hasan, who run shops at Radhika Palace, claimed Rs 4 lakh and Rs 7 lakh respectively for the damages caused during the riots. But they received only Rs 12,500 and Rs 17,500 from the SDM office respectively.
When asked about the administration’s response to granting compensation, Rafi says, “We are small-time workers. They ask for a proper bill of our losses. Our business runs on provisional billing. We trade in second-hand clothes. There is no bill for it. They do not understand it. In such a situation, how can we arrange for valid bills?”
Similarly, an auto driver and resident of Ashok Nagar, Mohammad Rashid, says that his entire house was gutted during the riots, but the government has given him a very little amount as compensation.
“Every single thing in my house was burnt down by the rioters,” he says. “We had gone to attend a wedding. When we returned, we only had the clothes that we had on. Everything was charred to ashes including cash, jewellery, documents, kitchen appliances, washing machine, TV, etc. But the administration believes that our house was not completely burnt.”
Rashid has received a compensation of Rs 2.5 lakh from the government, which was the fixed amount for substantial damage on any floor. Rs 5 lakh was supposed to be paid per floor in case of complete destruction.
“I faced a loss of about Rs 10 lakh. The miscreants vandalised everything, including the roof. We have also lodged an FIR against it,” he says.
In the case of complete destruction of residential buildings, the Kejriwal government had promised compensation of Rs 5 lakh for each floor affected while Rs 2.5 lakh was fixed for substantial loss. In addition, an amount of Rs 5 lakh was fixed for loss of commercial unit without insurance.
For loss of lives and injuries caused, the government has also established compensation to be paid. It had promised to grant a compensation of Rs 10 lakh in cases of fatalities in the riots, Rs 5 lakh for permanent physical damage, Rs 2 lakh for serious injuries, Rs 20,000 for mild injuries and Rs 5,000 for cattle deaths.
According to The Hindu, compensation worth over Rs 26 crore has been paid to 2,221 claimants from various areas of Northeast Delhi as of February 23. The statistics also show that 44 families received compensation of Rs 4.25 crore for losing their next of kin. For 233 victims who were injured, compensation worth Rs 1.75 crore was paid. For 731 houses that suffered serious damage, a total of Rs 8.51 crore was disbursed to the owners. The newspaper also reported that Rs 11.28 crore was paid as compensation to 1,176 people whose shops were seriously damaged.
Note: This article was updated at 1:30 pm on February 26, 2021 to include details of total claims settled by the Delhi government.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.