Delhi: Is AAP see-sawing between ‘development’ and ‘democracy’?

DELHI RIOTS: STATE FAILURE?

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Burnt buildings in Shiv Vihar. Pic credit: Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Delhi’s riot-ravaged north-east district is slowly picking itself up. Relief, rehabilitation and compensation for the families of 53 dead, more than 200 injured and the hundreds displaced and deprived is gaining steam, even though grief, bewilderment and confusion still hang over residents.


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The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 provides for (a) prevention and control of communal violence, (b) speedy investigation and trials, and (c) rehabilitation of victims.

While efforts at prevention, control or investigation of communal violence, with special trial courts for speedy justice, are under question, rehabilitation at least is gaining strength. But skirting the district reveals confusion among those housed in the nine relief camps in the affected localities, include Jafrabad, Maujpur, Babarpur, Yamuna Vihar, Bhajanpura, Chand Bagh and Shiv Vihar.

A two-day verification drive last weekend, led by six senior IAS officers, struggled to identify owners and residents. From the morning, vehicles driven by constables ferried people from various camps, including the one at Idgah, to their homes to confirm verification. But as hundreds are still living in the camps, the government finds it difficult to check their locked homes, delaying the distribution of compensation.

The Delhi government has distributed compensation of ₹2.96 crore, according to official figures, till March 7th. But verifying and compiling the information on the affected people and their homes is proving difficult. “It’s very stressful, as we’ve received almost 1,000 forms, which are actually more than the number of cases,” said Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Karawal, Pulkit Kr Patel. “It is difficult to sort them out. Many forms are repeated. One case has five duplicates. Some have filled forms even for their children. The staff is over-worked and some are unwell”.

The forms are being filled by officials at people’s homes, help desks, relief camps and by NGOs, which is leading to multiple duplication. Creating an authentic database from this will not be easy.

“Also, the information given turns out to be wrong sometimes,” said Patel. When their team visit the spots mentioned in the forms, they find that the location has been wrongly entered. “Don’t people have a responsibility to fill their forms more carefully?” he asks.

Rehabilitation measures that have been announced include compensation of Rs 10 lakh for families of the 46 killed, immediate relief of Rs 25,000 to owners of houses that were burnt and free books and uniforms to students. Families who lost a minor member are expected to get Rs 5 lakh as ex gratia. The seriously injured will get Rs 2 lakh, while those who suffered minor injuries will get Rs 20,000. Orphaned children will get Rs 3 lakh. Rs 5 lakh, including Rs 1 lakh will be given to tenants whose homes have been totally damaged. The government also said that it is revising the ex-gratia amount, which has not been updated since 2011.

One complainant asked why a Hindu constable has been given Rs 1 crore, while other victims were given Rs 10 lakh. Prithvi Reddy, AAP spokesperson, responded with: “The constable got compensation due to those who die in the Line of Duty, even firefighters have been killed and have got the same compensation. It is not a Hindu-Muslim issue”.

Round-the-clock helpline numbers and an app have been set up for riot-affected people, through which they can lodge details of loss of property, vehicles, business, details of injury and death. Night magistrates are coordinating relief and rehabilitation, while the Delhi Financial Corporation is expected to offer subsidised loans to small businessmen. The revenue department will take up intensive confidence-building measures and do a speedy survey of losses suffered by individuals, families, business establishments, shops and institutions. The finance department has been asked to call a meeting of heads of insurance firms to organise special camps to clear insurance claims.

Despite these announcements and quick fixes, will AAP rise to the occasion?  India’s riot rehabilitation record has never been good. For instance, after the 2013 communal violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Muzaffarnagar and Shamli, when 60 were killed and more than 50,000 displaced, Amnesty International India (AII) notes that 200 families are yet to receive any compensation.

Law and order

Currently, the Delhi police say 2,193 people have been either detained or arrested in connection with the riots, while 50 have been arrested under the Arms Act. About 251 meetings with the Aman (Peace) Committee have been conducted across the national capital.

Though the Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill, 2005 gives state governments wide powers in preventing and investigating communal riots and punishing the guilty, the fact is that the law may prove ineffective “if the executive dithers from taking prompt action to control communal violence”. The main complaint against the Kejriwal government is its “dithering” in taking any corrective action during the violence filled days of February 23 to 25. There is still an undercurrent of anger that the party in power did little to protect its citizens.

AAP’s spokesman, Prithvi Reddy counters that, saying “The Delhi government has absolutely no control over the Delhi Police. Forget about having no power, we ourselves have been the victims of atrocities by the Delhi Police throughout our five-year term. Delhi Police has been used and misused to harass our party. When you don’t have the police with you, but the people expect you to act, what can you possibly do?”

Opposition hits out

Meanwhile, the opposition has slammed the Delhi government for not using any available lever to get its way. From 1993 onwards, when Delhi elected its first legislative assembly, elected governments have tried to expand their powers by bringing more departments under them, writes Pawan Khera, INC national spokesperson. “The choice is between navigating your way to provide good governance or using it as a fig leaf to cover your incompetence. Arvind Kejriwal invariably chooses the latter.”

According to Khera, AAP could have taken the following steps:

  • Firstly, the Annual Confidential Report of the Delhi’s Commissioner and Special Commissioners of Police is written by the chief secretary of Delhi. The party could have used that lever.
  • Secondly, the state government could have set up a magisterial enquiry to probe into the role of the police. 

Sources at the Chief Minister’s Office found this line of reasoning quite amusing. One official told us that while the Chief Secretary does write the ACR for the Commissioner as well as the Special Commissioner of Police, that does not bring the police under the Chief Secretary, who reports not only to the CM but also to the LG and the union government on issues related to land and law and order. So this point simply is not valid.

Secondly, to set up a magisterial enquiry under the Commissions of Enquiry Act, the Delhi government would need the approval of the honourable LG, who is a central appointee and is guided by them.

Weak optics

Still, despite the lack of control over the police, many feel that the AAP government could at least have ‘said’ or ‘done’ something concrete to reassure its citizens. Their main questions:

Why didn’t AAP reach out to the public?

Why wasn’t AAP seen to be reaching out?

Why weren’t AAP voices heard during the violence?

But what exactly could the AAP have done? There are a number of opinions that slam the government for:

  • Verbal caution and lassitude
  • Lack of organised cadres or citizen patrols
  • No verbal or non-verbal messages about democracy, peace, communal tolerance and harmony
  • No psychological assurances to the people that they have AAP’s support
  • Lack of counselling or instructions through doctors, teachers and Residents’ Welfare Associations to promote peace and harmony.

Writer and academic Purushottam Agrawal, also a former Chief Advisor (2003–06) of the ‘Peaceful co-existence in South Asia’ project of the Aman Trust, Delhi, writes: “To put it bluntly, the behaviour of Arvind Kejriwal is symptomatic of the politics of ‘development’ minus the idea of democratic citizenship.”

Countering critics

Prithvi asks, “How many people are aware that on the very second day, the CM set out to meet the injured in the hospital, but was stopped by an RSS mob? To counter that, was there any way we could have taken help from a hostile police force? The only way violence could have been contained was by calling in the Army, which the party did ask for, but was ignored. The state government has completely lost confidence in the ability of the Centre to manage the situation.”

He also points out that the state’s ruling party is blamed no matter what. “Are you aware that the conflict was contained in a small part of the capital, which is itself under the central party members? Limiting the conflict was due to the efforts of the state government. Can anyone question that, or does anyone appreciate it?”

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1 Comment

  1. If what the AAP spokesman says is true, then my sympathies are with them. The media and SM should report their efforts widely.

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