Inability to pay victim compensation, a sorry state of affairs: HC

The Calcutta High Court has described the inability of the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) and West Bengal government to pay victim compensation as a sorry state of affairs which cannot be permitted to continue for an indefinite period of time.

 A survivor of human trafficking who was awarded a compensation of ₹1.5 lakh in December 2019 had approached the Court of Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya for disbursement of funds. The Court directed the SLSA, the State Government Member Secretary and Finance Department, Government of West Bengal, to file a report within six weeks from the date on the steps proposed to be taken for ensuring that adequate funds were made available. Justice Bhattacharya, in the order dated June 20, said the report must indicate the funds that are proposed to be allotted to the SLSA.

“This court has noted in other matters of similar nature that the SLSA has not been provided with the funds for disbursement towards victim compensation. In a similar matter of 2021, SLSA has submitted before this court that it had funds only of an amount of Rs. 5,000/- and was hence not in a position to disburse victim compensation. This is a sorry state of affairs, to say the least,” the order said. “This state of affairs cannot surely be permitted to continue for an indefinite period of time… The State or the SLSA cannot take the position that it does not have funds to compensate the victims.”

 The Court pointed out that victims who have suffered loss or injury or any kind of physical or mental agony have been brought within the purview of The Code of Criminal Procedure for a stated purpose. The Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the notification published by the State in 2017 make it mandatory on the State Government not only to make a separate budget for victim compensation, but also to constitute a fund with the specific nomenclature “Victim Compensation Fund” for those who need rehabilitation, the order noted.

Activists welcome order

 Activists and survivors have welcomed the Calcutta High Court order.

“There are a number of survivors of trafficking in the State who have been awarded victim compensations, but the money has not yet been handed over to them since SLSA does not have sufficient funds for that. In August 2019, a group of 27 survivors belonging to North and South 24 Parganas districts had also written to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to help expedite the process,” a press statement from Tafteesh said.

Tafteesh is a platform for researchers, lawyers, psychologists, journalists and survivors who work against human trafficking from across India.

Kaushik Gupta, a lawyer practicing at the Calcutta High Court, said that this order would benefit all victims of trafficking. Mr. Gupta, who is a member of Tafteesh, said that it was the statutory responsibility of the State to ensure funds to compensate victims and there were many such victims who had not received compensation.

Between April 2016 and March 2022, SLSA has awarded compensation to 587 victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and acid attacks, among others, under the West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme, 2017. In the six years, SLSA has disbursed ₹15.81 crore to the victims and their families.

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Printable version | Jul 9, 2022 5:28:34 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/kolkata/inability-to-pay-victim-compensation-a-sorry-state-of-affairs-hc/article65560543.ece