Patna: Neglected for decades, 18 surviving victims of the infamous Bhagalpur acid blinding incident, who are on the verge of starving, have finally approached the Supreme Court for justice. Since November last year, they have not received the pension of Rs 750 per month--the only compensation and source of their livelihood.
The victims’ advocate, Ram Kumar Mishra has filed a petition in the Supreme court early this week for revision of the compensation amount paid to them in a reference to the Khatri versus State of Bihar case.
Umesh Yadav, Patel Shah, Bhola Choudhary, Mantu Hari, Chamak Lal Yadav, Sallo Beldar, Kamal Tanti, Suresh Shah, Saligram Shah, Raman Bind, Lakhan Mandal and Shankar Tanti are the surviving victims of the brutal blindings by police that took place nearly four decades ago in Bihar’s Bhagalpur district. Till date, 14 of the total 32 victims have died.
In his petition on behalf of the victims to the Supreme court, Mishra stated, “I beg to draw your kind consideration towards the victims of Bhagalpur blinding, whose monthly compensation has been stopped by the government since last one year as a result of which they are starving.”
Mishra informed the apex court that after a lapse of four decades, the victims are still awaiting justice. They have not been rehabilitated. The compensation awarded in 1981 was Rs 750 per month, which has not been revised as yet.
He has mentioned that now at this juncture, the victims are not getting even the meagre pension. “I sent letter to the District Magistrate of Bhagalpur but in vain. Now the victims are starving like beggars. No one cares about them. It is a big question, that despite being a welfare state, the government does not provide social security unless the judiciary intervenes. The pension is meagre although it is the only source of survival for them. The victims have been forgotten and left in the lurch by the successive governments at the centre as well as in the state,” Mishra, who is president, Free Legal Aid Committee, Bhagalpur, said. He told the court, “They await justice even after 40 years has elapsed. I am vindicating their grievances since last 40 years without fatigue. They need a hope in your Lordship through me,”
Mishra told NewsClick that the victims' last hope for justice lies with the apex court. “They are hopeful to get justice at last from the court,” he said.
He recalled that in July 1980 when he was moving a bail in the court of ACJM, Bhagalpur, two persons namely Lakhankaal Mandal and Anil Yadav were produced before the court for remand. Fresh blood was trickling from their eyes having hole therein. “That moved me immensely and I asked permission from the court to prosecute the concerned police officers. I was not granted permission by the ACJM and the then District Judge. Those days Mrs Kapila Hingorani, a senior advocate of the Supreme Court, was very active in filing PIL in the matters of miscarriage of justice. I sent a letter to her which she received and put before the then Chief Justice of India, who treated my letter as a writ. Notice to the state of Bihar was sent and the Registrar General was directed to enquire into the trueness of the allegations made in my letter which were found true as per his report. The said writ was subsequently read as Khatri vs State of Bihar,” Mishra said.
By the direction of the apex court, the victims were treated properly, cases pending against them were quashed, wrongdoers were brought to book, and compensation was granted and rehabilitation was ordered. But for the compliance of every direction, several petitions were filed.
“Even during a pandemic, we have not received our pension as it was stopped by the concerned authorities last November. It is really painful that the government failed to consider our plea to provide the pension on humanitarian grounds,” Umesh, one of the victims, said.
He added that they are helpless and blind; they rely on others’ help for movement. “We curse ourselves for this life after being blinded by police,” he rued.
Jamal Tanti, another victim of the acid incident, said, “We know that the little amount of this pension is not adequate for survival, but whatever amount this is, it is our own money. We have faced so many problems during the lockdown.”
Similarly another victim said, “The pension amount was sufficient enough so that we do not beg our children for khaini (smokeless tobacco), tea and other necessities.”
Mishra said that till October 2019, the surviving victims were getting the pension as per the apex court order in lieu of interest from the fixed deposit of Rs 30,000 in each victim's name in the State Bank of India. He had filed a PIL in 1980 in the apex court, following which the court had ordered to pay the pension to the victims.
He said that initially, their pension amount was merely Rs 500, which was later increased to Rs 750. But the pension amount has remained the same for the last three and a half decades. “No one cares for them and they have been left to fight for their survival. Even the meagre pension amount has now been stopped,” he said.
The Bhagalpur blindings case is known to be the first one in which the Supreme Court had ordered compensation for violation of human rights. However, the victims appear to have been forgotten by the successive governments at the Centre as well as in the state.