24 February, 3.30 AM, Seelampur (Northeast Delhi)
“I heard a scream from my neighbouring house, piercing through the uneasy silence after the first bout of tension in the Seelampur area. Some men had climbed on top of the roof and were trying to barge down into the house. I ran to help my neighbour and her daughter. I saw two men standing near the terrace door, completely masked. Without a thought, I got into a brief fist fight with them. And then, there was a blaring gun shot.”
Saifuddin* was shot on his leg on the first night of communal riots in Northeast Delhi that killed at least 53 people. The sole bread winner for his 7-member family now lies partially paralysed on his bed, without any income or government’s compensation money.
“It has been 4 months since the NE Delhi violence, I have not received a single penny from the government. It is only due to some NGOs that I have been able to sustain during the lockdown but how long can I depend on them?”Saifuddin to The Quint
Extended lockdown and no redressal money from the government has further aggravated the woes of this 40-year-old, who is waiting to have two more thigh surgeries. Unfortunately, he is not the only one who is left in the lurch.
Lawyers, who have been filing petitions in the Delhi High Court on behalf of the victims to fast-track the process of compensation, told The Quint that there are over 100 victims who have not received any compensation for losses suffered during the riots.
According to compensation scheme announced by CM Arvind Kejriwal two days after the violence, an immediate relief of Rs 25,000 was supposed to have been given “per hosuehold in case of substantial or total damage of the house and for loss of household items.”
The balance would have to be evaluated and disbursed after proper assessment.
However, speaking to The Quint, SDM Karawal Nagar PK Patil said:
“The initial relief amount was supposed to be given to only those people whose houses have been burnt. That is what we have been doing from the beginning.”
Out of fear, many victims left Delhi after the riots and returned only on imposition of lockdown. Many may still not have returned. Two such victims who returned to Delhi only in the second half of March, were not able to file their compensation forms with the SDM, the authority responsible for evaluating and processing claims.
24-year-old Neha had left her house in Shiv Vihar a day before violence to attend a relative’s wedding in Uttar Pradesh. When she heard about the riots back home, she kept put in her village and returned to the city with her family only on 24 March. When she reached the city, she found her savings looted and her house partially damaged.
“I lost about 2 lakh rupees. When I tried to file an FIR after coming back, I was forced to take at least four rounds of the police station amid the ongoing lockdown. Despite that, the SDM office did accept my form saying that my complaint was clubbed with other FIRs.”
Mohsin, who lives two lanes away in Shiv Vihar, said his father’s bakery was completely burnt. “Out of fear, we left the city a day after violence and returned ten days later. Even after we returned, we would stay at the Eidgah camp at night because we were so terrorised.”
Running Back and Forth to Govt Offices: The Long Road to Relief
The lockdown kept delaying the process of filing their claims but even after it was relaxed and government offices were allowed to function, the SDM office remained shut.
The online portal that was set by Delhi government to expedite the process of relief also stopped functioning soon after it was launched and was not operational throughout the the lockdown. Despite multiple visits to the police station for filing a complaint and registration of FIR, no action was taken by the police.
Left without any source of income and stripped of dignity, both Neha and Mohsin’s family approached the Delhi High Court to seek intervention.
The Delhi High Court, on 22 June, ordered the SDM office to immediately restart the compensation procedure and reboot the online portal where complaints can be accepted and where victims can track the status of the form. The Court also directed that compensation forms of the petitioners be accepted without insisting on a copy of FIR.
The matter was argued by Advocate Rajshekhar Rao and the petition was filed by Advocate Aanchal Tikmani.
Two days before the matter was listed, when a copy of the petition was sent to the Commissioner of Police and the SDM, the Station House Officer from Karawal Nagar police station made several calls to Neha and told her that her FIR will be registered immediately. He also asked, ‘aapki pahuch itni upar tak kaise hai?’ (how do you have access to the authorities above).
Despite the High Court order, on 24 June when the petitioners visited the SDM office, they found a handwritten notice outside the gate that specifically stated, “Yahaan DC office complex mein koi bhi kisi prakar ki public dealing corona virus ke kaaran nahi ho paa rahi hai. Yahaan is parisar mein agle aadesh tak koi bhi dealing ka kaam nahin hoga.” (No public dealings are taking place in this DC office complex as a result of outbreak of coronavirus. As a result, no public dealings will take place at the said building until further orders.)
After repeated calls and requests to the SDM, the petitioners were finally allowed to meet him on 29 June, but once again their forms were not accepted. The SDM cited a discrepancy in the FIR for not accepting the claims, even though the court order clearly stated that there was no need for a FIR copy to process the immediate ex-gratia.
The petitioners had to once again approach the High Court. On the midnight before the matter was listed i.e on 3 July, the online portal started working.Now fresh forms can be filled on the online portal but there is no way to upload a copy of FIR or track status of a pending compensation form.
As a copy of FIR is mandatory for assessment of compensation under the scheme, victims are now apprehensive that their forms will be rejected for lack of an FIR.
Advocate Mishika Singh said, “Four months have already passed since the riots and no amounts have been paid to these victims. In cases where amounts have been paid, the assessments have not been made as per the scheme. In various cases where all three floors of the houses of victims have been burnt the damage has been categorised as substantial damage and a meagre amount of Rs. 50,000/- has been assessed as compensation.”
She added, “In fact as per a list of assessment published by the SDM Karawal Nagar, it is interesting to note that there are no cases of complete damage of residential unit on the list. This is despite the fact that a majority of houses in Karawal Nagar had been completely burnt and lanes in the area continued to erupt smoke till a week after the riots.”
“The SDM is now saying that he is scared to let so many victims inside his office due to fear of infection. But now that online portals have been rebooted, he can easily send one officer to evaluate the damages and then disburse the money to the victims digitally. What matters is intent.”Mishika Singh, Advocate
SDM Patil told The Quint, “The process of filling the form and evaluation has now started in a full fledged manner. How were we supposed to open the office during lockdown anyway?” When asked why the office didn’t open despite the lockdown being lifted, he said, “The process has began now. That’s all I have to say.”
The Quint has tried to reach out multiple times to the Delhigovernment for a response on the delay in paying even the immediate assistance to the victims of Northeast Delhi riots, but there has been no response yet. The story will be updated as and when they reply.