The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Maharashtra government to apprise it about whether compensation has been paid to the legal heirs of 168 people, who were stated to have gone missing during the 1992-93 communal riots in Mumbai.
The apex court also asked the state government whether these 168 people were among the around 900 identified victims of the riots.
A bench headed by Justice S K Kaul said it requires information on whether any compensation was paid for the loss of property, when was the compensation paid and the time lag between the date of the incident and payment of compensation.
“We would require information on (a) Whether the figure of 168 persons, who are stated to be missing, was a part of the 900 number of victims identified. (b) Whether any compensation has been paid to the legal heirs of the persons who have been found missing,” said the bench, also comprising Justices A S Oka and Vikram Nath.
The top court, which reserved its verdict on a plea raising issues including that of payment of compensation to the victims of the 1992-93 riots, asked the state government to file within two weeks an affidavit giving details of the information sought by the bench.
The bench told the counsel appearing for the state that broadly, three issues have been raised by the petitioner’s advocate.
It said one of the issues argued before is that the legal service authority or the legal service system must come to the aid of people who have borne the brunt of social incidents which are criminal in nature.
The apex court said the other two issues raised before it is — there must be adequate compensation taking into context the time period and in the matters where police officers are involved, every endeavour should be made to have an independent investigation.
The bench observed that as per the chart placed before it, 900 people have died in the violence.
“168 persons have gone missing. After completion of seven years, their families must get compensation,” the bench observed.
The counsel appearing for the state said the compensation paid is Rs 17 crore.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, referred to the report of Justice B N Srikrishna Commission and said it had dedicated a chapter on several policemen and their role in the riots.
He also referred to the legal aid system in riots cases and said victims are left to fend for themselves.
The bench observed that today, legal aid has a very different structure and a lot of things have been done for providing legal aid.
“A complete set-up is made…. Brother Chief Justice has worked in the last one-and-a-half years strengthening the legal aid system. At least on the judicial side, I have had many opportunities to see the things being done. Merely because it has failed in the past, does not mean that it will fail today,” Justice Kaul observed.
The bench said the legal aid system has to be strengthened to give support to everybody and that has happened over a period of time.
The top court had in February 2020 asked the Maharashtra government to apprise it of the action taken against the police officers who were allegedly indicted by the Commission of Inquiry that probed the 1992-1993 riots.
It had noted that the commission headed by Justice B N Srikrishna had filed its report in 1998.
The bench had also noted that despite the fact that the apex court had called upon the state to file a detailed affidavit regarding the action taken against police officers way back in December 2018 and reiterated thereafter, nothing has been done so far.
The bench had said the affidavit will also state the details of the compensation for the victims made in the report and the quantum.
The apex court passed the order in February 2020 while dealing with several pleas filed since 1998 seeking direction for the implementation of the recommendations made in the Justice Srikrishna Commission report.
Justice Srikrishna had retired as a judge of the Supreme Court. He was appointed to head the commission to inquire December 1992 to January 1993 riots that shook Mumbai when he was a sitting judge of the Bombay High Court.
The Commission was set up when there was a Congress government in Maharashtra and it was disbanded in 1996 after a Shiv Sena-BJP government came to power in 1995.
However, soon after it was reconstituted in 1996 with terms of reference including the Mumbai Bomb blasts of March 1993.
The Srikrishna Commission report, submitted in April 1998, had indicted leaders of some political parties and police officers.