Recently, the Odisha Legal Aid Centre secured a significant legal victory, bringing justice for Mrs. Babita Nayak. She had been wrongly denied compensation by the Odisha State government. Babita’s father had been killed in the 2008 anti-Christian carnage in Kandhamal, Odisha and she is his only surviving legal heir.
In 2016, in a batch of cases in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), the Supreme Court directed the grant of additional compensation to victims of the Kandhamal violence. In case of death, an additional compensation of rupees three lakhs was directed to be given by the State government to the next of kin of the victims. Babita became eligible to receive the benefit declared under that judgment, being the next of kin and only surviving legal heir.
Pratap Chhinchani who heads the Odisha Legal Aid Cell learnt from the victims that the additional compensation as per the direction of the Supreme Court had not been paid by the State government. Thereafter, he filed 14 writ applications on behalf of as many widows who had lost their husbands to the Kandhamal violence. This included Babita (whose deceased mother had been widowed due to the violence).
Pursuant to the filling of the writ applications, the state government released an amount of 17 crore rupees towards additional compensations. Most victims and their families were able to receive what was due to them. However, since Babita and another client had not received what was due to them, Mr. Chhinchani asked them to file their claim before the District Collector. When no action was taken on their petition by the Collector, a writ petition was filed on their behalf. Thereafter, the other client received what was her due, whereas Babita was denied compensation on the ground that she was already married. This was despite the fact that the other client was also similarly situated, being a married daughter of a deceased victim.
Mr. Chhinchani, having learnt of the denial, filed a fresh writ petition on behalf of Babita, believing the decision of the Collector to be unjust, arbitrary, and suffering from non-application of mind. When the matter came up before the High Court, notice was issued to the State respondents, including the Collector. Consequently, the Collector immediately deposited rupees three lakhs into Babita’s account. The State and its functionaries should have done the needful without putting her through all this hardship. If it wasn’t for her tenacity and the perseverance of Mr. Chhinchani, she would have been denied justice.
The Kandhamal violence took place 12 years ago. This goes to show the long and arduous path to justice for victims of communal violence. In fact, there is never a “return to normalcy”. This is especially significant in the wake of the recent carnage that took place in the national capital, leading to the deaths of more than 50 civilians. Central and State governments must take preemptive measures to prevent and also respond quickly to curtail the irreparable damage caused due to large scale and unchecked communal violence. Religious minorities, Dalits and Tribals suffer the most.