March 17, 2004 Hearing
The last hearing on 13.11.03 had concluded with the NHRC asserting the need to re-frame the issues in the case. After that date, there were some discussions between counsel for the parties in an attempt to reach a consensus in this regard. However, the discussions remained incomplete and the case kept getting postponed for various reasons. On 17th March, counsel for the CIIP handed over a copy of their proposed issues to the Commission. However, Justice Anand took a completely different tack and suggested that it was, perhaps, premature to reframe issues in the absence of the victim families and without hearing them on the matter. He pointed out that all these years the CIIP had been acting in the public interest, as a friend of the court, without specific authority to represent the families. In such circumstance, it would be improper for the Commission to proceed to adjudicate upon individual cases without giving the families an opportunity to represent their case. Other complications, such as the lack of an authentic list of NOK, entitled to receive the compensation awarded, would also arise.
Ashok Agrwaal reminded the Commission that the CIIP had requested the Commission in writing as far back as January 2001 (reiterated in an application of 5.5.03) that the victim families be brought on record before the NHRC. He also informed the Commission that the victim families had formed an association, Association of Families of the Disappeared in Punjab (AFDP), with the object of representing their interests before the NHRC.
After further discussion, the Commission elicited a consensus that a public notice should be issued inviting all the victim families comprised in list 'A' and the "identified" victim families from lists 'B' & 'C' to file their claims with the Commission. Keeping in mind that about 65% of the persons illegally killed and cremated by the Punjab police had not yet been "identified", the notice would also invite all others who had a "grievance" to file their claims with the Commission. This is potentially an extraordinary development. Till the identities of the "unidentified" are ascertained, any family whose kin has disappeared would be entitled to prefer a claim and the Commission would be obliged to examine it if only for the purpose of determining if it is "covered" under the current proceedings, which pertain to only those cremated at the three cremation grounds of Amritsar, Patti and Tarn Taran. Justice Anand also clarified that the 88 families who had filed claims before the Commission pursuant to its public notice of 19th January 1999 would also be asked to enter appearance before the Commission.
The NOK will be required to file their claims within eight weeks from the date of publication of the public notice, which shall be published in Hind Samachar, Jalandhar (in Urdu), The Tribune, Chandigarh (in Hindi, English and Gurmukhi), Daily Ajit, Jalandhar (in Gurmukhi), and Punjab Kesari, Jalandhar/ Delhi (in Hindi). The State of Punjab was directed to bear the expense of the publication of the notices. They have also been asked to publicise the Commission's order through the State controlled, electronic and other media.
The next date for hearing is 9 July 2004.