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The Rediff Interview/BJP leader Kirit Somaiya

'We failed to get anything from the government'

July 10, 2008

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Former Lok Sabha MP and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Kirit Somaiya is no stranger to disaster management. During his last stint as parliamentarian, a blast on a train killed 10 people in the Mumbai suburb of Mulund. That was the first time he worked closely with the victims of the blast and helped them through medical aid and rallying them to get past the bureaucratic maze to get compensation from the government.

Somaiya, who also worked with the victims of Mumbai's July 26 flood disaster in 2005, has spent the best part of the last two years trying to get compensation and medical help for the survivors of the July 11 blasts.

He tells Krishnakumar P about how the investigation has not moved after the first 90 days, how the state government has messed the compensation system and how close to 1,000 people endured the constraints of bureaucracy to get their due.

7/11 defence lawyer: My clients will be released

What is your take on how the government has handled the investigation?

The investigation hasn't progressed one bit after the first three months. They filed the chargesheet on October 11, 2006 based on the investigation of these first three months. They named 28 people, of which 13 are behind bars and 15 are absconding. Once the accused got a stay order from the Supreme Court saying that the law under which they are charged do not hold any water, the government hasn't done anything to take the case forward.

It is a pity that the Centre is not supporting the state government either, despite the same party being in power in both the places. They haven't even taken up the issue of the 15 absconding Pakistani nationals with Islamabad.

The judiciary is also struggling. The court in which this trial is on has only three judges.

The defence counsel is saying that the case cannot be tried under Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act...

Exactly. That's what they said when they took the stay order. What has the government done to explain the process of framing the charges under that act? Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil (who is also Maharashtra's home minister) must explain.

You have also worked with the kin of the victims who were given railway jobs. It is said that many of them have left the jobs.

A total of 212 people -- 186 relatives of those who were killed in the blasts and 26 people who were injured were eligible for the jobs. The Indian Railways told us they received only 136 applications. Of these only 70 took up the jobs. And now we have found out that at least some 25 people have quit. This includes many women who were given jobs of porters. What kind of logic is this´┐Ż giving the job of a porter to women? This is one aspect where the railways, which has done a good job otherwise, has failed completely.

What is the situation in distributing financial compensation?

That has been done well to an extent, again the railways doing a better job and the state government lagging behind. In 23 months since the blasts, the railways have managed to compensate 92 per cent of the 1,000+ injured victims and the government has managed to compensate 90 per cent, but after long delays.

There have been numerous cases where the railways had compensated someone in the serious injuries category and the government has put them under minor injuries and given them only Rs 2,000.

These people had to go through a lot of hardship to get their due compensation from the state government.

How about the medical expenses of the victims?

Despite making legal commitments and also through several affidavits, the government has not borne the cost of single hearing aid or artificial limb, I repeat not even a single hearing aid. Can you believe it?

But here is where the NGOs and activist groups stepped in. Thanks to them every single person who suffered hearing loss was given high quality hearing aids and those who lost limbs were given artificial limbs.

Why did the government not deliver on these promises?

You have to ask them. The government first said on the floor of the assembly that they will bear the medical expenses. Then they suddenly changed their tune and said the railways will bear the expense. The railway ministry, in an answer to a question in Parliament, clearly stated that it would not be picking up the medical expenses of the victims and it had never promised to do so.

Moreover, there are at least 25 people who are in need of successive surgeries but are not able to get it done because of lack of funds. We don't know why the government has been shoddy in this area.

How would you rate the overall relief and rehabilitation work of the government?

Relief and rehabilitation has been a disaster, especially from the state government. But there are positives. This may be the first instance where we have been able to take the issue of compensations to its logical end. That is one area we were able to help the people.

We have failed to get anything from the government in the medical aid side. But for the NGOs, imagine the plight of the people who had lost their limbs and hearing, if they had been dependent on the government.

But the government can still pull up its socks and help those who are in need of successive surgeries.

The Rediff Interviews

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