Rs3.3 bn compensation offered, but Gujarat riots victims sceptical (Roundup)

May 23rd, 2008 - 1:38 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of P. Chidambaram

New Delhi/Ahmedabad, May 22 (IANS) Six years after communal violence ravaged Gujarat, the Indian government Thursday announced a compensation package of Rs.3.32 billion ($77 million) for the survivors and families of those killed in riots. Many victims and rights campaigners, however, remained sceptical if it will really help the needy. “A compensation of Rs.350,000 will be given to the families of each of the 1,169 people who died in the riots. The total amount for this comes to Rs.40.19 crore (Rs.401 million),” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram told reporters in New Delhi.

He said the decision was taken at a cabinet meeting held Thursday.

Chidambaram said this compensation was in addition to what the state government has alraedy given to the riot victims.

He said the compensation was on par with what the victims of 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi had received.

Around 3,000 Sikhs were killed in the anti-Sikh riots which broke out after the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi Oct 31, 1984.

Chidambaram said an amount of Rs.296 million was earmarked for the 2,548 people injured in the Gujarat violence. Each of them will get Rs.125,000 as compensation.

For those who suffered financial losses due to damage to property, an amount of Rs.2.62 billion has been sanctioned.

Violence broke out in parts of Gujarat after 59 Hindus were killed near Godhra town when a mob allegedly torched two coaches of the Sabarmati Express train. In the retaliatory violence that raged for weeks, more than 1,000 people were killed, majority of them Muslims.

“The victims, whose residential property had been damaged, will get an additional ex-gratia of 10 times the amount given by the state less the amount already paid by the state. The additional liability on the same thus comes to Rs.2.62 billion,” said Chidambaram.

The finance minister said the same yardstick would apply in the case of damage done to the uninsured commercial and industrial properties.

“The decision for payment of additional ex-gratia to the victims riots, for damage to their residential properties and uninsured commercial, industrial properties will keep them at par with the measures taken in respect of victims of anti-Sikh riots of 1984,” he said.

Many victims and rights activists, however, were sceptical about the massive package.

“I am hearing this sort of compensation ever since it was announced for anti-Sikh riot victims. The whole thing seems to be a hoax to me,” said Mukul Sinha, the Ahmedabad-based lawyer of the rights group Jan Sangharsh Manch (JSM) who has been representing the victims before an inquiry panel.

“First, the government should with all sincerity decide who should get what,” Sinha said.

He said many victims were yet to be identified even in case of much-talked-about massacres. Even today no one knows how many people are missing, he said.

Mohammad Salim, a violence victim from Naroda-Patiya area in Ahmedabad, told IANS that there was massive loss to properties and 700 houses were looted and burnt in the locality.

“A perfunctory survey was carried out by the state government and even today 40 percent of the people whose houses were destroyed are yet to get any compensation. Only those who lost their kith or kin have been compensated,” he said.

Ayubhai Lalsab Qureshi, another victim of from the same neighbourhood, became emotional recounting how a mob had lynched his six-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter.

“I have received Rs.500,000 so far,” he said.

“The government had given me a bond of Rs.60,000 for each of my deceased kid. Three months ago, I was given Rs.350,000 in compensation for the deaths and property lost and for my other two kids who had sustained serious injuries,” he said.

Anwarbhai from Ode village, 105 km from here, told IANS: “I lost 17 of my kith and kin. As to the destruction of properties, no one had realized that Rs.50,000 had been announced as compensation for houses destroyed. This sort of tragedy had befallen us for the first time. And when we were given paltry Rs.500, Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,500, we never realized we were taken for a ride and the original sum was much, much higher.”

Another victim of Ode village, requesting not to be named, said: “Will we ever get the compensation that has been announced today? Or will we be hoping against hope?”

Father Cedric Prakash, who runs NGO Prashant in Ahmedabad, said: “We have to look at the package announced in two ways and with caution.”

“When a disaster strikes, people are in need of financial help and it has to come as early as possible. When the central government announces a package after six years, one needs to think why is it so late and has it come out of genuine concern for the victims. One also needs to ask why the state government has not been more proactive,” he said.

“Overall, maybe, it is better late than never to provide financial help.”

When contacted, Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah refused to comment.

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