Back in the days of yore, when the society of man was yet to have an organized legal system or justice administration, there was no real distinction between criminal and civil wrongs. A wrong was a wrong, and justice meant mostly restoration of the status quo; or in cases in which this was not possible, some form of recompense for what was lost. Further, it was considered that no man had the power to punish another man. It was only God that wielded such power. Hence, God-men, priests or the kings were considered to be the agents of God, who were empowered to execute God’s will in dispensing justice and in inflicting punishments as such.
It was only much later after the fiction of state was borne and the society developed an organized legal system that segregations were made between civil and criminal wrongs. It can be said that the segregation occurred primarily when the state took over the role of maintenance of law and order for all its subjects and territories. It became the responsibility of the state to look after the welfare of its subjects, and hence, offences or crimes against the person were considered to be offences against the state. Thus, with it came the power to punish offenders for the crimes committed by them. It became immaterial as to whom the crime has been committed. It all fell into the genus of the offences against the state, or the society.
In all of it, however, it so happened that the real victims of the crime were conveniently being forgotten. Their roles became limited to reporting the crime to the state machinery only. Then, after they had set the criminal law in motion, they became hushed back behind the same obscure shadows. Then with time, the disappearance was complete.
However, by the second half of the last century, the discourse shifted back to recognizing the real victims of crime, those who had conveniently remained forgotten for centuries. In this regard, the UN Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crimes and Abuse of Power deserves special mention, which will be referred to intermittently as the write-up progresses. The Declaration basically aims at strengthening the institutional mechanisms so as to enable the victims to get redressal through formal or informal procedures, which are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and accessible.
In India also, the criminal laws were amended to meet the needs of time. However, the major changeover came in the year 2008, when the Code of Criminal Procedure was amended, so as to include a new section 357-A . The said new section provided for-
- Creation of Victim Compensation Fund, for payment of compensation to the victims of crime/ or dependents
- Payment of compensation irrespective of the outcome of the case, or even in cases where the accused is unidentified, untraceable etc
- Interim relief for the victims of crime
- Legal Services Authorities entrusted with the task of recommending and disbursing compensation
In pursuance of this, all states of India framed separate victim compensation Schemes in tune with the local needs.
In Manipur also, the State Victim Compensation Scheme was framed in the year 2011, which provided for the payment of compensation to the victims of crime. The said Scheme has been amended from time to time, with the latest amendment in the year 2019. Major features of the Scheme are-
- Creation of Victim Compensation Fund, with a yearly budgetary allocation from the state budget, as well as from the Central Victim Compensation Scheme
- Opening of a dedicated Savings Bank Account in a nationalized bank as the depository of this Fund
- The Director of Rehabilitation, Department of Home will be operating the Fund
- Compensation will be mostly in the form of financial assistance for the victims or their dependents, and the quantum of compensation shall be on the basis of the Schedule annexed with the Scheme
Another major change came after the Nirbhaya case, with the creation of Nirbhaya Fund with a corpus of Rs. 1000 crores. The corpus also provided for payment of compensation for the women victims of crime. Initially, a corpus of Rs, 200 crores was released which was to be distributed amongst the states to form part of their state Victim Compensation Scheme. Then came the case of Nipun Saxena vs Union of India, which mandated that the NALSA’s “Compensation Scheme for Women Victims/ Survivors of Sexual Assaults/ other Crimes”, should be adopted/ incorporated by all states in their respective victim compensation schemes. This scheme primarily provides for creation of separate Victim Compensation Fund for women within the State Victim Compensation Fund. In Manipur however, it is not done so.
Now comes the interesting part.
As per data available in the PIB, (https://pib.gov.in/Pressreleaseshare.aspx?PRID=1579539), the year-wise allocation for Manipur State Victim Compensation Fund, from the Nirbhaya Fund (Central Victim Compensation Fund) is as follows:
|Sl. No.||Financial Year||Amount allocated (in lakhs)|
Out of which, no utilization certificate (UC) has been submitted so far.
Interestingly enough, Manipur was depicted as one of the states which have not utilized a penny of the Nirbhaya Fund allocated to it, of which the victim compensation also forms a part, according to the data made available by the then Hon’ble Minister of Women and Child Development during a Lok Sabha session (https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/only-20-of-nirbhaya-fund-has-been-used-by-states-until-2018/article28230097.ece).
Now as far as the state budget allocation goes, the figure for the last two years is as follows:
|Sl. No.||Financial Year||Budget allocation in lakhs||Actuals (after Revised Estimate) in lakhs|
Here, it can be mentioned that the maximum compensation which can be awarded in a single case is Rs. 10 lakhs. Hence, it is rather strange that the budget allocation for the whole year is Rs. 9 lakhs only for this FY 2020-21. As per the Schedule of the latest notified Manipur Victim Compensation Scheme, 2019, loss of life, rape, unnatural sexual assaults, injuries leading to permanent disabilities or mental injuries requiring rehabilitation, loss of foetus or fertility, pregnancy on the account of rape, burns injuries and acid attacks are the cases which are eligible for victim compensation. The quantum of compensation payable varies from Rs. 10 lakhs in cases of loss of life and gang-rape to a minimum of Rs. 1 lakh in cases of injuries resulting in permanent disability or mental injury. Victims of acid attacks are also eligible for a maximum compensation of Rs. 7 lakhs. However, till date, there is only one documented case of acid attack in Manipur.
Regarding this, it is rather unfortunate that the Scheme have been so developed without considering the local singularities; directly attributable to the tendency of copying central schemes in toto. Let me provide an example. Manipur is considered one of the hardest hits states of insurgency in India and thousands of lives have already been lost in the clash of ideals. Hence, if local situations and circumstance were to have taken into account, then victims of enforced disappearances, and victims caught in the crossfire (collateral damages) would have been taken into consideration while framing such compensation schemes. Manipur is under the AFSPA, and as such an extraordinary situation is prevailing in the state since decades back. We are living in disturbed area, and hence it is always safe to assume that thousands of civilian victims or unintended victims have already been victimized in various forms. Apart from death, rape and other physical injuries, generations have also been mentally scarred, with mass fear psychosis being a recurrent phenomenon amongst the natives. However, such mass victimizations remain beyond the purview of any victim compensation schemes. Ideally, it would have been more appropriate to have an institutional framework rather than moving the higher courts for each instance. Furthermore, there is the issue of mob violence or the common misnomer “mob justice”, which is almost becoming an unwanted culture in Manipur. Here also, it would be more appropriate to have a proper institutional mechanism than addressing each solitary case of these victims by the representatives of the people.
In this context, the UN Declaration can be referred to. The said Declaration recognizes the victims of abuse of power by defining as such- persons who have, individually or collectively, suffered harm or injury, including economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights by such acts or omissions which do yet constitute violations of the national criminal laws but of internationally recognized norms relating to human rights. Two points are important here. First is, the Declaration recognized collective victimization. Secondly, victims of enforced disappearances, collective subjugation etc., which are yet to be incorporated in our national criminal laws, can claim for compensation through a proper framework. India is usually ahead in ensuring rights of an individual person. Take for instance, right to privacy stemming from the right to self determination is now considered as an integral part of human dignity. However, India is a little bit reluctant in ensuring or promoting collective rights, or rather, the discourse on collective rights is still non-existent in the legal theatre of India.
Moving on and as mentioned earlier, the UN Declaration called for strengthening or establishment (where non-existent) of judicial and administrative mechanisms to enable the victims to obtain redressal through informal or formal procedures which are expeditious, fair, inexpensive and accessible. Further, emphasis was also laid that unnecessary delays in the disposition of the cases and in the execution of the orders/ awards for grant of compensation should be avoided. This could be construed to mean avoidance of bureaucratic red tape-ism at any costs.
Now, let me juxtapose these guiding principles of the United Nations with the situation prevailing in Manipur. District Legal Services Authorities will conduct an enquiry for all cases of victim compensation applications and those recommended by the courts. Mostly, the enquiries are limited to certifying the identities, and for fixing the quantum of compensation if recommended from the courts. For other individual cases, the enquiries also established the genuineness of the claims. Then, after completion of enquiries, DLSAs will send its recommendation along with all requisite details to the Director of Rehabilitation, Department of Home for disbursal of the compensation amount. The role of the Director of Rehabilitation is thus limited to mere distribution of the amount. However, as no dedicated savings bank account have been opened and the budgetary allocation have not been sanctioned and deposited beforehand, the files are being forwarded to the Finance Department individually for sanction of the recommended quantum of compensation. Thus, the movement of the files will follow the same administrative hierarchy, with different levels of authorization. That process alone will consume enough time, even without any extraneous circumstances. Then, there will be sanction order, additional concurrence of the Finance Department on the sanction order again, sanction order to be sent and passed by the Treasury Office, before ultimately crediting into the account of the beneficiary. Although, it is mandated by law that the whole process of enquiry and disbursal of the compensation amount within two or three months (as the case may be), there is no way that compensation amounts have been disbursed on time. As it is not obviously done so, the whole process reeks of administrative red tape-ism, inevitably derailing the whole victim compensation process.
Another glaring issue which can be reiterated here is that the budget estimate is fixed at Rs. 10 lakhs (for the previous financial year) and Rs, 9 lakhs (for this present year). The actual utilization (after revised estimates) was Rs. 60 lakhs in the previous year, however. As the additional funds after revised estimates are generally sanctioned and released at the fag-end of the financial year, it presents another set of dilemma. Besides the fact that no victim compensation will be disbursed till the end of the financial year on account of paucity of funds, there is also the danger that the sanction order may lapsed for want of time as the sanction order have to pass through additional set of verifications again. There have already been documented cases where the already sanctioned order for payment of victim compensation lapsed at the end of the financial year due to shortage of time.
As mentioned earlier, the budget estimate doesn’t make any sense as the maximum compensation awardable in a single case is more than the budget allocation for one year. Till date, since the notification of the Manipur Victim Compensation Scheme, 2019, more than 50 recommendations have been forwarded to the State Home Department for disbursal of the compensation amount. Most of these cases pertain either to POCSO or crimes against women cases. Hence, in many of the cases, the upper quantum of Rs. 10 lakhs had been recommended. Most recently, the Sessions Judge, Thoubal recommended payment of Rs. 10 lakhs to the dependents of the victim in a rape and murder case. Thus, the budgetary allocation of Rs. 60 lakhs (actuals of previous FY) and Rs, 10 lakhs (Budget Estimate of this Financial Year) are far too less to clear the outstanding dues of the compensation amount to be disbursed to the victims. It also makes lesser sense when the pending dues of the previous years are also yet to be cleared till date. It almost becomes a cause for bewilderment when viewed in totality.
Thus, the victim compensation procedure in Manipur is neither informal nor expeditious, with lot of unnecessary delays and unfair administrative hierarchical structure. In short, it is almost inaccessible. In addition, it is also not available.
Notwithstanding these grey areas of the highest order, let me refer back to the UN Declaration again for one last interesting point for future discourses. It is mentioned there that the informal mechanisms for resolutions of disputes including mediation, arbitration and customary justice and indigenous practices should be utilized wherever appropriate to facilitate conciliation and redressal for the victims. Further, it is also given that the victims should receive the necessary material, medical, psychological and assistance not only through governmental but also through voluntary, community and indigenous means also. This really makes for an interesting point as in Manipur, people are usually concerned either with demolishing the houses of the accused perpetrator or totally segregating customary justice and indigenous practices from the criminal justice administration, including victimology. However, the moot question is- can there be a middle ground, where we can successfully incorporate the customary justice and indigenous practices in victimology? Mob violence only expands the vortex of crimes and victimization, and it is quite pointless. It would be more worthwhile to concentrate all such energies on alleviating the sufferings of the victim rather than directing the rage towards other unintended victims. For example, in case of rape, the society may come together to minimize the stigma attached with rape and to negate the question of honour usually associated with such crime. The social support base may be amped up and other measures can be taken in tune with the customary justice or indigenous practices which may well serve the interest of the victim. This is only a mere observation nevertheless, intended to only set the ball rolling. For the fallacies and the misconstrued notions are too powerful to be attacked directly as of now.
Summing up however, the institutional framework for the Manipur Victim Compensation Scheme needs to be broadened to take into consideration the local needs and exigencies. Also, the whole procedure needs complete overhauling as it has become totally illogical and redundant. Thus, it goes without saying that it is high time to move beyond the rhetoric, lest we choose to remain content with “episodic reactions” and sound bites in the media.
The writer is Deputy Member Secretary Manipur State Legal Services Authority