Compensation for Bilkis Bano

Kashmir Times. Dated: 4/26/2019 12:56:42 AM

The Supreme Court decision on compensating Bilkis Bano brings into focus the state's obligation for preventing heinous crimes

The Supreme Court direction to Gujarat government to pay compensation of Rs 50 lakh besides a job to a gang-rape survivor of 2002 communal pogrom in the state Bilkis Bano is a welcome decision. By delivering such a decision and issuing clear directions to the Gujarat government for its failure to protect innocent citizens during the 2002 communal riots, the SC has endeavoured to achieve restitutive justice to the victims' family. The fresh direction from the SC comes close on the heels of the previous decision granting compensation to the extent of Rs 5 lakh, which was rejected by the survivor and a revision petition was filed in the apex court. This direction for compensation to victims is a relatively less recognized component of criminal justice system and this case falls in the category of rare cases wherein the top court of the country has acted and ensured that relief is granted to the victim. But in a system that mainly focuses on the accused, an order of compensation is recognition of the fact that the state owes an obligation to the victims of the heinous crime. It is also appreciable that Bilkis Bano has bravely fought her case very well and for a long time. In the process, handing over the fine amounts paid by the accused as part of their sentence is one aspect of such justice; another aspect is for the court to ask the government to compensate the victim from its own coffers. A group of rioters had raped her as well as two other women, and killed seven members of her family at Randhikpur village on March 3, 2002. The Supreme Court noted that she had the misfortune of witnessing her daughter being smashed against a wall, as well as the devastation suffered by her family. She was also pregnant at the time of the gruesome incident. Moreover, the SC was told that she was leading an itinerant, hand-to-mouth existence. It is in these circumstances that the Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi awarded her Rs 50 lakh, besides asking the State government to provide her with a government job and a house.
Despite the protracted litigation spread over more than a decade, criminal prosecution resulted in conviction and life term imprisonment to 11 persons, accused of committing the heinous crime, Bilkis Bano's case is a rare one. The sentences have been upheld by the Bombay High Court. Further, the SC found deliberate inaction on the part of some police officers and that the autopsies were perfunctory and manipulated. The Supreme Court has asked for the pension benefits of three police officers to be withdrawn, which the Gujarat government claims to have carried out. In short, this is one of the many instances of inaction and negligence on the part of the state that would normally justify the payment of a hefty compensation. Not every crime would have a similar set of circumstances. While convictions are not easy to come by in cases of mob violence, victim compensation may often be the only way to ensure some justice. The Code of Criminal Procedure was amended in 2008 to insert Section 357A under which every State government has to prepare a scheme to set up a fund from which compensation can be paid to victims of crime and their dependants, who have suffered loss and injury and who may require rehabilitation. The Centre has a Central Victim Compensation Fund. On Supreme Court directions, the National Legal Services Authority has prepared a compensation scheme for women victims and survivors of sexual assault and other crimes but this is yet to replicated in different states of the country. Many States have notified schemes on these lines. While on paper there is a mechanism to assess rehabilitation needs and pay compensation, there is a need to streamline the schemes and ensure that the compensation process is not done in an ad-hoc manner, but is based on sound principles. This has to be done on permanent basis particularly for women and children, who become victims of sexual assault and violence of any form across the country.

 

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