The Supreme Court has stayed the Meghalaya High Court’s order for payment of compensation between Rs 10 to 15 lakh in custodial death cases.
A bench of Justices B R Gavai, Sanjay Karol and Sandeep Mehta has issued notice on a special leave petition filed by Meghalaya government.
“Until further order(s), the impugned judgment and order passed by the High Court shall remain stayed, subject to condition that the compensation as determined by the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) shall be paid by the petitioner,” the Supreme Court’s bench said in its order passed on January 22.
It may be mentioned that the Meghalaya government through Advocate General Amit Kumar had challenged the validity of the Meghalaya High Court’s order passed on August 28, 2023 in a suo motu PIL.
In a suo motu PIL, the Meghalaya High Court’s division bench had set aside the notification issued by the State government on December 15, 2022 as it found the compensation agreed to be paid as inadequate.
“For the period till date in case of any unnatural death while in custody, the next and kin of the victim will be entitled to a sum of Rs 15 lakh if the victim was below 30 years of age as on the date of death; a sum of Rs 12 lakh if the victim was below the age of 45 years but above the age of 30 years as on the date of death and, a sum of Rs 10 lakh if the victim was above 45 years of age as on the date of death,” the Meghalaya High Court had said.
The High Court also directed the amounts of Rs 15 lakh, Rs 12 lakh and Rs 10 lakh in the three categories as indicated herein will hold good till the end of the year 2024, whereupon they will stand increased by Rs 1.5 lakh at the highest level and by Rs 1 lakh each at the two other levels for the next period of three years.
The quantum of compensation should be enhanced every three years so that it is sufficient damages for the next of kin and the deterrent factor is also maintained to the same degree, it had added.
However, in its special leave petition moved in the Supreme Court, the State government contended the issue is required to be authoritatively settled by the Supreme Court so that uniformity and consistency is maintained throughout the country.
“To ensure uniformity, adequacy, objectivity and fairness in payment of compensation, the National Human Right Commission (NHRC) made recommendations to all the state governments to follow a set of guidelines for awarding the compensation. The said guidelines have been adopted by a number of states including the State of Meghalaya, it is submitted that if different High Courts, on the basis of their subjective assessments, start fixing their own set of in-rem rules, the recommendation of expert authority will lose its purpose as has happened in the present case,” the State government said in its plea.
The Meghalaya government further said that the High Court, based on its own subjective views on reasonable quantum of compensation and without any finding as to any arbitrariness in the State policy, has grossly erred in setting aside the policy decision notified on December 15, 2022, supplanting its own views with that of the executive taken on recommendation of the expert body, i.e. NHRC.
It also maintained the compensation amount notified by the State was in addition to the ex gratia amount granted by the State government on its own in deserving cases.