The scheme, notified in 2014 by the state government, grants Rs 3 lakh to victims of acid attack, Rs 2 lakh to families of murdered individuals and Rs 50,000 to those rendered permanently disabled as a result of a crime.
Notified to extend compensation to victims of violent crimes — acid attack, assault and murder — both police and people eligible to receive compensation under it have been found largely unaware about the Maharashtra Victim Compensation Scheme. To improve its execution on the ground, the government has now roped in an Amravati-based NGO, Disha, that was instrumental in its formulation.
The scheme, notified in 2014 by the state government, grants Rs 3 lakh to victims of acid attack, Rs 2 lakh to families of murdered individuals and Rs 50,000 to those rendered permanently disabled as a result of a crime. However, in 2018-19, the state government disbursed merely Rs 67.4 lakh among 64 victims of violent crimes under it.
The victim compensation scheme is distinct from the state government’s Manodhairya Scheme for rape victims, children who are victims of sexual offences and acid attack victims (women and children), which was effected in 2013 after the brutal gangrape and murder of a physiotherapist in Delhi in December 2012. The 2014 scheme, in contrast, is meant for needy victims irrespective of gender.
In 2011, the NGO Disha had moved Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court seeking that the compensation scheme be activated in the state under Section 357 A of the Code of Criminal Procedure — the section requires each state government to form its own scheme to compensate victims of crime “or their dependents who have suffered loss or injury as a result of the crime and who require rehabilitation”.
While compensation under Manodhairya is much higher, both the schemes come with riders whereby compensation can be revoked depending on the outcome of the trial, crucial witnesses turning hostile and applicants misrepresenting their dependence on the deceased or victims using bogus documents, Disha director Pravin Khandpasole said.
This assumes significance as family members of 24-year-old lecturer Ankita Pisudde, who died earlier this month after she was allegedly doused with petrol and set on fire by a stalker in Wardha’s Hinganghat town, might be found ineligible to receive Rs 10 lakh compensation under the state government’s Manodhairya scheme, Khandpasole said.
While only victims of rape, child sexual abuse and acid attack and compensated under Manodhairya, the 2014 victim compensation scheme also does not cover burn victims like Pisudde, Khandpasole added.
“The 2014 scheme is meant to provide assistance and rehabilitation only to those victims of weak financial backgrounds and the most-needy section of the society. The eligibility criteria are such that neither the victims nor their next of kin should be either employed with the government or be taxpayers. I do not think the Pisudde family would be eligible under the 2014 scheme either. The problem with compensation schemes in Maharashtra is that they are so beset by technicalities that they exclude victims just because they were burned with petrol instead of acid. They do not consider that a woman has died regardless,” he said.
Disha has been filing Right to Information (RTI) applications with Maharashtra’s 36 police commissionerates and districts since 2015 to understand the scheme’s functioning across the state. According to data accessed by the NGO, in the first year of the scheme, only 153 applications for compensation were sent to the state government, which in turn approved only 34. This is despite 5,563 women affected by 5,220 incidents of crimes covered under the scheme. Twenty-four police units admitted not having assisted a single woman to receive compensation.
The District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) is responsible for preparing an application after a case is filed and it is ascertained that the affected woman and her next of kin are eligible for the compensation. However, a recommendation from the Sessions Court Judge overseeing the trial of the crime is essential for an application to get approval.
In 2016-17 fiscal, only 56 out of 156 application were approved. This is despite 5,043 incidents of crimes and 5,339 cases of casualties among women. A total of Rs 75.6 lakh in compensation was granted to victims of crime that year, that too only in 14 police units.
In 2018-19 fiscal, the total compensation granted dropped to Rs 67.4 lakh with the state government approving only 64 of 163 applications and trial judges recommending only 68. Incidents of murder, attempted murder and acid attack against women stood at 5,243 in the period.
Claiming that a variety of reasons are to blame for the abysmal figures Khandpasole said, “We have observed that most women and their families eligible to receive compensation simply do not know that such a scheme exists. It is the responsibility of the investigating officer of each case and the DLSA to tell them about it. But in most places, we have seen that even the police department is clueless about it.”
Last month, Khandpasole wrote to the Home Department, offering the organisation’s services in publicising the scheme. “...We see that police system is the first machinery to come in contact with the victim, identify the most deserving victims or families an inform public prosecutor to request the trial court to recommend those cases for compensation under the Maharashtra Victim Compensation Scheme, 2014. In this way, just one referral to the trial court through public prosecutor by police can become a valuable support for the victim as well as improve the implementation of the government scheme,” the letter stated.
In late January, the Maharashtra Police finally shot off instructions to each of its units to collaborate with Disha to carry out to awareness and publicity programmes. So far, the organisation has held sessions with the police in Beed and Chandrapur districts, Nagpur city and with trainees at the Maharashtra Police Academy.
“We have given a checklist to the police about what documents they should collect from the families of victims and the manner in which they should assist them in seeking compensation. We have also created application forms and distributed them to the police,” Khandpasole said.
The next step, he added, will be sensitisation programmes for trial court judges to exhort them to quickly scrutinise and recommend applications for compensation. Khandpasole said that a standard operating procedure is also required to ensure uniformity and smooth implementation of the scheme.
Disha has also observed that DLSAs across the state differ on what stage, prior to the trial interim, compensation can be availed. While some districts file applications immediately after an FIR is registered, others wait till after a chargesheet is filed.