After almost 30 years of the 1992-93 Bombay Riots that shook the nation, the Supreme Court on Friday issued a slew of directions for the payment of compensation to the families of the victims and further also directed the revival of the dormant cases that were pending before the Courts for early disposal.

The Bench of Justice SK Kaul, Justice Abhay S. Oka, and Justice Vikram Nath observed that the State failed to maintain law and order and protect the rights of the people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution.

The Court thus observed-

"The violence witnessed by Mumbai in December 1992 and January 1993 adversely affected the right of the residents of the affected areas to lead dignified and meaningful life. It cannot be disputed that certain groups were responsible for the largescale violence in December 1992 and January 1993. There was a failure on the part of the State Government to maintain law and order and to protect the rights of the people guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India."

The Court noted that one of the root causes of their suffering was the failure of the State Government to maintain law and order. Therefore, the affected persons had a right to seek compensation from the State Government.

The Court constituted a Committee headed by the Member Secretary of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority to trace the family of the missing persons and to make sure that they make compliance, such as the execution of the undertakings. In this context, the Court noted that the State Government has not made any effort to trace the family members of the missing persons.

The Court held –

"We propose to direct the State Government to nominate a Revenue Officer, not below the rank of Deputy Collector and a police officer not below the rank of Assistant Commissioner of Police as the other two members of the Committee. The Committee shall monitor the efforts made by the State Government to trace the family members of missing persons, whose addresses are not available and also to ensure that those eligible persons who have not made procedural compliances are assisted to make necessary compliance. The Committee will have to also monitor compliance with the directions issued by this Court as regards payment of compensation to all categories of victims."

The Court further directed the State Government shall submit to the Committee a report containing details of 168 missing persons including their names and addresses. The State Government will also place material regarding efforts made to trace family members of 108 missing persons who have been deprived of compensation in terms of the second Government Resolution. The State Government shall make all possible efforts to trace the legal heirs/family members of the missing persons. The Committee shall monitor this exercise. The Committee shall assist the legal representatives of the missing persons to complete the procedural formalities.

The Court also directed the State to submit to the Committee the record relating to compensation paid. Also, provide a list of victims who have not been paid compensation in terms of both Government Resolutions.

The Court furthermore directed the State to pay compensation of Rs. 2 lacs to the legal heirs of the missing persons with interest.

The Court held that the entire exercise of payment of compensation and/or interest shall be completed by the State Government within a period of nine months.

The Court also held that the State Government shall provide the details of only pending riot-related criminal cases before the Sessions Court at Mumbai to the Registrar General of the Bombay High Court who shall bring it to the notice of the concerned Court that the case needs to be disposed of at the earliest.

The Court directed the State to provide details of 97 cases on dormant files to the Registrar General of Bombay High Court within one month.

The Court was dealing with a writ petition filed by one Shakeel Ahmed in 2001 who had sought implementation of the recommendations of the Justice Sri Krishna Committee that was constituted by the State Government to probe into the riots.

Senior Counsel Colin Gonsalves appearing for the Petitioner had contended before the Court that the action taken by the State Government on the recommendations of the Commission is merely an eyewash. It was further contended that the police officials who were found guilty of serious misconduct by the Commission were let off either by exonerating them or by imposing very minor penalties.

Counsel Rahul Chitnis appeared for the State before the Apex Court.

The Court while referring to the contention of the Senior Counsel Colin Gonsalves that the victim of the offences sought to have been provided legal aid by the State and District Legal Services Authorities established under the Legal Services Authority Act, noted-

"…on an application being made by the victims of the offence or their legal heirs, legal services could have been provided to them by appointing advocates, who could have assisted the Criminal Courts in terms of sub­Section (2) of Section 301 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short, 'Cr.P.C.') during the course of trials. Legal services could have been provided to the victims to challenge the orders of acquittal. But we must remember that those were the early days of the Legal Services Authorities."

While explaining the meaning of the term 'ethnic' mentioned in the 1987 Act, the Court held that there is no manner of doubt that communal harmony between two religious groups was one of the main causes of the riots and violence. The Court in this context added that these incidents of 1992 and 1993 are the incidents of ethnic violence under Section 12(1)(e) of the 1987 Act.

Expressing hope, the Court observed that after 75 years of independence, a riot-like situation would not arise in India, however, if such a situation arise, the Court noted that Legal Services Authorities at various levels would come to the rescue of the victims of violence and render legal services to them.

With such directions and observations, the Court directed the State Government to expeditiously implement all the recommendations made by the Commission on the issue of reforms in the police force which were accepted by it and disposed of the Petition.

Cause Title – Shakeel Ahmed v. Union of India & Ors.

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