The State Legal Services Authority (SLSA) received harsh criticism from the Calcutta High Court for not having enough money to compensate victims under the West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme, 2017, and it was ordered by the State government to ensure the distribution of sufficient funds within six weeks.
A single-judge bench presided over by Honourable Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya in the case of Maleka Khatun v. The State of West Bengal and Others (W.P.A. 4 of 2022) Observed that “The SLSA has not been given the money to pay victims’ compensation, as this court has noted in other cases of a similar nature. In a case similar to this one from 2021, SLSA claimed before this court that it had only Rs. 5,000 in funds and was therefore unable to pay out victim compensation. To say the least, this is a sorry state of affairs.”
Facts of the case:
In response to an order issued by the Secretary of the District Legal Services Authority, South 24 Parganas, on December 5, 2019, setting the compensation amount at Rs. 1,50,000, the present writ petition was filed in order to obtain payment of victim compensation. The petitioner then filed an appeal, which is still pending review by the appellate body as of June 24, 2022, asking for an increase in the compensation amount to Rs 18 lakhs.
However, during the proceedings, the attorney representing the SLSA claimed that the organization currently does not have any funds available and was unable to pay the petitioner the sum of Rs. 1,50,000 up until this point.
As a result, the Court instructed the SLSA and the State government to submit a report outlining the steps they took to distribute funds within six weeks, noting, ” “As a result, it has been mandated that the State Legal Services Authority (SLSA), the State Government Member Secretary, and the Finance Department of the Government of West Bengal submit a report detailing the steps that will be taken to ensure that the State Legal Services Authority receives an adequate amount of funding within six weeks of the report’s submission date. The report must include information about the funds that are planned to be deposited with SLSA in the allotted time for handling the outstanding victim compensation cases.”
The Court further noted that a special provision for the Victim Compensation Scheme, which went into effect on December 30, 2009, is provided for by Section 357A of the Criminal Procedure Code. It was further emphasized that, in accordance with this clause, the State Government must develop a plan for allocating funds to compensate the victim or his or her dependents who have suffered loss or harm as a result of the crime and who need rehabilitation. This plan must be coordinated with the Central Government.
It was further asserted that Section 357A(2) of the CrPC mandates that the DLSA or the SLSA determine the amount of compensation to be awarded under the Scheme after the Court recommends compensation.
The West Bengal Victim Compensation Scheme, 2017, which was announced on February 15, 2017, reiterates in Clause 3 that the State Government shall establish a fund called the Victim Compensation Fund from which the victim or his or her dependents will receive the amount of compensation under this Scheme. It was also noted that Clause 3 mandates the State Government to allocate a separate budget on an annual basis. The Member Secretary, SLSA for the State of West Bengal is responsible for managing the fund.
The Court declared, arguing that the current situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely, “The Code of Criminal Procedure as well as the Notification published by the State in 2017 makes it mandatory on the State Government to not only make a separate budget for victim compensation, but also to constitute a fund with the specific nomenclature of “Victim Compensation Fund” for disbursing amounts to the victims who need rehabilitation. It is obvious that this situation cannot be allowed to persist indefinitely. The Code of Criminal Procedure has been used to bring victims who have endured loss, harm, or any type of physical or mental suffering under its purview. The State or the SLSA cannot claim that they lack the resources to provide compensation for the victims.
The Court also rejected the petitioner’s request for an immediate disbursement of Rs. 1,50,000 due to practical considerations, specifically the fact that SLSA is unable to provide the Court with information regarding the amount of money that is currently available. After six weeks, there will be another hearing on the matter.
Judgement Reviewed By Manju Molakalapalli.