Short essay on the Compensation to victims in India
The idea of relief and compensation to victims is not a new one. Earlier too, our laws provided for compensation to the victims of accidents. In some cases, the law combined punishment of the offender with monetary satisfactions for the injured party as a means of forestalling enmity through counter-violence by the victim's kin.
In the 1950s; an English reformer initiated a modem movement to bring the victim back into the criminal justice equation.
"Victim compensation" refers to payments made from state funds to victims of crime. Advocates of victim compensation have argued that since the state is responsible for protecting its citizens from crime, the failure to do so obligates the state to indemnify those who are victimised.
The state is believed to be responsible to the victims because imprisonment prevents offenders from paying damages. The general welfare policy also is cited as justification for governmental assistance to the unfortunate victims of crime.
Barnes and Teeters (New Horizons in Criminology, 1951) have said: Our barbarian ancestors were wiser and more just than we are today, for they adopted the theory of restitution to the injured, whereas we have abandoned this practice to the detriment of all concerned."
Some countries, however, have accepted this demand and introduced victim compensation schemes. New Zealand introduced it is 1963, Great Britain in 1964, and Australia in 1967. In America, 28 states (including New York and California) have introduced these schemes. The compensation scheme in England is that a victim is paid compensation in accident cases if he is injured for three weeks' loss of pay.
The award is sanctioned by the Compensation Board when the victim submits an application to it. In New Zealand, compensation is paid in rape, kidnapping and murder offences out of the fine levied on the accused persons. Compensation thus does not cover crimes against property. Special Compensation Tribunals have been created for this purpose.
The victims are expected to lodge complaints with the police and submit themselves to medical check-up, if necessary. No compensation is paid where the victim shares the responsibility of the offence.
Victim compensation schemes have also been introduced in countries like Canada, France, Norway, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Belgium, Japan, the Netherlands, Turkey, West Germany, Yugoslavia, Hong Kong, and Singapore. However, these countries do not pay compensation for all types of crimes. Compensation is necessarily selective.
The guidelines generally followed are: (1) Compensation is payable to persons for injury resulting from crime. (2) Crime against property is not compensable. (3) Victims of inter-familial crimes are not compensable. (4) Victims who initiate or provoke the criminal assault resulting in their victimisation are precluded. (5) Offences arising from gang warfare are not compensable. (6) Trivial injuries are usually ignored; say a loss of less than two or three weeks' earnings.
In India, the principle of compensation for victims of crime has been accepted in Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) and 1958 Probation Act. The Carp provides for compensation out of fine levied on the accused. The award of compensation has to be a part of sentence and must be decided by the courts.
Not only the victim but also his/her spouse, parent and child are entitled to compensation. But in practice, the provisions (for compensation) have remained merely on paper because it is difficult to recover amount from the offender.
S. Venugopal raised the question of compensation to victims in a seminar on "Criminal Law and Contemporary Social Changes" held at Delhi from 8-10 May 1969 by the Research Division of the Central Bureau of investigation.
Another seminar on "Compensation to Victims of Road Accidents" was organised in 1980 in New Delhi and various issues like third-party claims, expeditious settlements, etc. were discussed. However, since then no serious thought has been paid to this question either by the judiciary or the criminologists.
A study in Poona city in 1960-61 by Pradhan (1965) showed that out of 510 cases of violence in one year (1960-61) prosecutions took place only in 182 cases and in 13 cases the aggrieved party was awarded compensation.
In another study of victims of Fatal Motor Vehicle Accidents conducted by Khan and Krishna in Delhi in 1981, it was found that only in 22 per cent cases, some 'assistance' was made available to the victims. In third-party insurance, only 20 per cent of the bereaved families were compensated by the insurance companies.
In England, a white paper presented in the Parliament in 1959 suggested that "society has concentrated so much on the rehabilitation of the offender that it has lost sight of the equally important concern for the victim's welfare, i.e., the reformation policy is offender-oriented and not victim-oriented. It is necessary that victim's loss and offender's ability to pay should be assessed."
In America, Ralph Yarborough while introducing a private bill in the Senate in 1963 held that "while society is weeping over the criminal, it is showing no such concern for the victim of his crime.
Society is brutal towards the victims of crime and not against the criminals." Katzenbach Commission appointed in America in 1966 found legislators, law-enforcement officers and the public in favour of compensation scheme.
Schafer's worldwide (29 countries) inquiry on victim compensation concerned the following questions: (i) whether the victim or his dependent has any legal right to claim restitution for damages from the offender; (ii) if so, to what offences does this right apply; (iii) whether damages are restricted to compensation for financial loss only or any other non-material injury; (IV) the nature of jurisdiction; (v) the manner of recovery. He found three systems existed in paying compensation to victims:
(a) Damage: awarded in civil proceedings only.
(b) Restitution-, awarded both in civil and in criminal proceedings.
(c) Compensation-, awarded through special procedure both in civil and criminal proceedings.
He, thus, concluded that the general situation involves the victim of crime in a helpless position with regard to his claim for compensation.
Stephen Schafer studied existing compensation schemes in 29 countries in 1958-59 and gave the following suggestions:
1. Compensation to victims of crime could be brought within the purview of criminal procedure and dealt with in the same criminal court which deals with the offence.
2. Compensation may be claimed by the victim but if he doesn't, the court should deal with it as part of its fundamental duties.
3. If the question of compensation leads to delay in the pronouncement of sentence, the court should pass a part sentence and may postpone its decision in relation to compensation.
4. Compensation should be fixed with reference to offender's economic and social position.
5. Where the offender is not in a position to compensate, the state must undertake its responsibilities.
6. The state should set up a Compensation Fund with the aid of fine and other sources of revenue.
Can these suggestions be accepted in a country like India? The five questions we have to pose are: (1) Should the concept of compensation be accepted in principle? (2) If yes, for what crime? (3) Who should pay compensation? Should it be paid by the state or by the offender? (4) How to realise the compensation amount from the offender? (5) How to pay compensation? Should it be paid in lump sum or in installments?
If we take into consideration the magnitude of crimes in India for which compensation may be considered feasible, we find that (taking average of six years from 1993 to 1998), every year about 2,94,360 cases of theft, 1,18,101 cases of burglary, 23,190 cases of robbery, 8,488 cases of dacoity, 21,248 cases of kidnapping, 38,024 cases of murder, 33,198 cases of cheating, 14,064 cases of rape, and 15,949 cases of breach of trust take place in our country (1998: 43-44).
Can our state afford to pay compensation to about five lakh victims of only nine offences under the IPC every year? How much amount would be involved? Since we do not have wage scheme in prisons, how can offenders are compelled to pay compensation?
This only shows that compensation scheme is not feasible in our country. A similar provision has already been made in our Criminal Procedure Code, Probation of Offenders Act, 1958, and in some other laws.
The idea of extensive application of the scheme of government compensation to victims thus does not appear to be economically practicable in our country.
In fact, no government can afford the cost of victim compensation which may run into billions of rupees a year; and also no government can lay claim to finding fool-proof methods for detecting fraudulent claims.
There is also the fear that such programme would result in the creation of another bureaucratic paper mill, and that compensation would dampen the victims' desire to testify against criminals, increasing crime rates.
Of course, there are scholars who have answers to these criticisms. They maintain that restrictions on eligibility will control expenditure. Also, there is no evidence that compensation affects the crime rate.
The possibility of fraud is minimal. Even in accident cases which permit compensation according to the existing laws, the rates of compensation are very low which do not cover even the medical expenses.
The courts procedures are so complicated that people, even if aware of the existence of the compensation scheme, hesitate to take legal action against the offenders. It is, therefore, high time that a debate on the various aspects of victim-compensation in the country is started to protect victims' interests.