Supreme Court: In a writ petition relating to the issue of implementation of the recommendations of the Justice B.N. Srikrishna commission constituted after the 1992 and 1993 Mumbai riots and bomb blasts, the three-judge bench of Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Abhay S. Oka* and Vikram Nath, JJ. ordered the State Government to constitute a committee and to place material regarding efforts made to trace the family members of the missing persons who have been deprived of compensation and directed that the entire exercise of payment of compensation and interest shall be completed within a period of nine months from the date of this judgment. Further, it directed the State to provide details of 97 cases on dormant files to the Registrar General of the Bombay High Court within one month from the date of this judgment and to immediately constitute a special cell to trace the absconding /missing accused in these cases.
The present petition was filed for declaring that an enquiry conducted under the Commission of Enquiry Act,1952 (‘the Act’), would tantamount to an inquiry within the meaning of Article 311 (2) of the Constitution of India; and that the public servant found guilty under the Act, 1952 be liable to be summarily dismissed; and to direct the State to accept and act on the finding of the Justice B.N. Krishna commission and to pay compensation to the persons identified as missing.
The Court noted that the State Government issued a memorandum of action to be taken by the Government on the report of the commission and most of the recommendations were accepted by the State Government, however, it did not agree with the findings of the commission on the causes of the riots.
The Court said that the recommendations of a Commission cannot bind the Government and the Courts cannot compel the Government to act upon the report. But, once the Government accepts the recommendations, a Writ Court can issue a mandamus for the implementation of the recommendations as it becomes an obligation of the Government to implement the recommendations.
The Court made the following observations:
Action against erring police officials
In terms of the recommendations of the commission, first information report (‘FIR’) were registered against nine police officials, and two of them were discharged and seven were acquitted. The Court said that the State Government should have been vigilant and proactive in these cases, as they have not stated the reasons for not questioning the orders of acquittal, and now it is too late to direct the State to examine whether the orders of acquittal deserve to be challenged.
Further, one official was made to compulsorily retire by way of punishment and nine other police officials were impose with minor penalties and out of them eight officials have already retired from service. Further, inquiry against one police official was dropped as he died during the pendency of the inquiry. Thus, in view of long passage of time, the Court said that as far as the disciplinary action is concerned, now in the year 2022, it will be inappropriate to go into the question of the validity of the orders passed by the disciplinary authorities and the adequacy of the penalties imposed; as a Writ Court should not normally interfere with disciplinary proceedings.
Riot related criminal cases
The Court directed the Sessions Court to dispose of the pending case dealing with criminal cases relating to the violencein 1992 and 1993 at the earliest and observed that 97 cases are on dormant files and the reason must be that either the accused therein are not traceable or are absconding. Further, it said that the High Court must issue appropriate directions to the Courts in which these cases are pending and must ensure that these Courts take appropriate steps for tracing the accused and directed the State Government to set up a special cell for tracing the accused.
Failure to provide legal aid to the victims
The Court referred to Section 12(e) of the Legal Services Authorities Act, 1987(‘LSA Act’) and observed that a person who is subjected to ethnic violence, is entitled to legal services under the 1987 Act and interpreted the word ‘ethnic’ to include religion, tribe and caste in it, by giving it a broad meaning for the purposes of considering the entitlement to grant of legal aid, and observed the incidents of 1992 and 1993 as incidents of ethnic violence, within the meaning of the said Section. Thus, it was observed that 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, during trials and legal services could have been provided to the victims to challenge the orders of acquittal, but as those were the early days of the legal services authorities and now, they have expanded their activities for effectively rendering legal services, it was held that, now, it is too late to direct the authorities to render legal aid to the victims of the 1992 and 1993 riots for challenging the orders of acquittal.
Failure to make proper investigation
One of the grievances of the petitioner was that in large number of riots related offences, a proper investigation was not carried out and therefore, about 1371 cases were closed by classifying as ‘A’ Summary (true but undetected). However, the Court noted that the State Government had appointed a committee under the chairmanship of the Director General of Police to scrutinize all cases which were classified as ‘A’ Summary and observed that out of the 112 cases, 104 were again classified as ‘A’ Summary, and in the remaining eight cases, charge sheets were filed, wherein, seven cases resulted in acquittal, and in one case, where the offence was compoundable, the case was compounded.
Recommendation on police reforms
The Court observed that the commission in its report has made several suggestions for reinforcing and improving the police force and the memorandum of the Government records showed that most of these recommendations have been accepted by the State Government, but what remained was the implementation part. Thus, the Court held that the State Government cannot ignore the recommendations made by the Commission for the improvement and modernization of the police force and the recommendations shall continue to guide the State Government.
Compensation to victims
The Court referred to Article 21 of the Constitution of India and said that it confers a right on every citizen to live with human dignity, and if the citizens are forced to live in an atmosphere of communal tension, it affects their right to life guaranteed by Article 21. Further, 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 the said Article. Thus, the affected persons had a right to seek compensation from the State Government.
The Court noted that the Government has also passed resolutions to give financial assistance to the persons affected due to riots and said that the State Government has come up with the scheme to pay compensation of Rs.2 lakhs to the legal heirs of the missing persons, in view of Section 108 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872, but the State Government has not put any efforts to trace the family members of the missing persons and to make sure that they receive the compensation.
Thus, the Court proposed to constitute a committee headed by the member Secretary of the Maharashtra State Legal Services Authority to monitor the efforts made by the State Government to trace the family members of missing persons, whose addresses are not available and to ensure that those eligible persons who have not made procedural compliances are assisted to make necessary compliance and to investigate the records relating to the remaining 108 missing persons, and further directed the State Government to nominate a revenue officer and a police officer as the other two members of the committee.
The committee will have to peruse the records to ascertain whether compensation was paid to all eligible persons and shall ensure that compensation is paid in terms of the first Government resolution to various categories of victims of the 1992 and 1993 riots and the interest will have to be paid to such victims who have not been paid compensation at the rate of 9% from the expiry of the period of six months from the date of the first Government resolution till the date of payment of the compensation amount, similarly interest will be paid to the legal heirs of the missing persons from the date of passing of the second Government resolution. Thus, the Court issued various directions to the State Government.
[Shakeel Ahmed v. Union of India, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 1519 decided on 04-11-2022]
*Judgment by: Justice Abhay S. Oka
Apoorva Goel, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief