The current bout of firing between India and Pakistan along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir has displaced 3,361 civilians. Housed in makeshift relief camps as both countries intensify fighting, they join the 7.9 lakh people estimated to be displaced by conflict in India till 2016. This is a good time to assess the response of the Indian state to displacement caused by internal conflict.

There is a legal and policy lacuna around the rights of Indian citizens displaced by conflict and the role of the state in ensuring their wellbeing.

India has the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, which addresses displacement due to development projects, and the Disaster Management Act, 2005, which deals with natural disasters. These laws provide a legal framework on which the administrative response to such displacement is based. But they exclude displacement due to conflict and violence.

This has created a situation where the responses of different Indian states are typically reactionary, situational, arbitrary and widely different. The difference is the starkest when comparing state responses to long-term displacements. Some examples related to relief measures and rehabilitation steps, narrated below, tell this story well.

Stark differences in compensation

Kashmiri Pandits displaced from the Kashmir Valley since 1990 receive Rs 1,650 per person plus rations every month, whereas members of the Bru tribe, who fled persecution in Mizoram in 1997 for Tripura, receive Rs 150 per adult and limited rations. In Assam, communities displaced for years received 600 grams of rice per adult per day for five to 10 days a month, according to the Assam Relief Manual. But tribal communities from Chhattisgarh who fled to Andhra Pradesh and Telangana following operations by Maoists and the state get absolutely no aid.

Significant variations exist within states too.

A report by two researchers in 2006 found that families living along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, who were displaced for months on end, received Rs 400 per adult per month plus limited rations that year. In Assam, some families displaced by violence in 1993 received Rs 10,000 as compensation and others were enrolled under a government scheme for the rural poor. But those displaced in the 2012 clashes in Assam received Rs 22,700 and some basic building material.

The inter-state variations are stark when comparing rehabilitation and resettlement grants meant to help displaced families who return home to find their property and possessions damaged or destroyed.

In Assam, families whose homes have been destroyed in riots between 2011 and 2016 received Rs 50,000 each. However, in Uttar Pradesh, Muslim families who fled their homes during the communal violence in 2013 were offered a maximum of Rs 25,000 as compensation for lost and damaged property. The state government also offered each family Rs 5 lakh each if they did not return to their villages. Victims of the 2002 Gujarat riots received varying compensation based on assessments of loss – the average compensation worked out to Rs 90,000 per family. In the case of Kashmiri Pandits, housing complexes have been constructed in the Valley for their return. Additionally, they have also been offered government jobs. One returnee family received Rs 7.5 lakh in 2008 to construct a house under a central government relief package.

A woman, who fled her home after heavy shelling between India and Pakistan along the Jammu and Kashmir border in 2014, arranges her utensils at a relief camp. (Photo credit: Mukesh Gupta/Reuters).

Policy needed urgently

The Indian state has failed all these families because of its inability to ensure their fundamental right to freedom – they have all lost possessions, homes and livelihoods and have struggled alone to recover. Yet, their losses have been treated unfairly and with disrespect. The lack of a policy for people displaced by conflict allows relief and rehabilitation to become a victim to vagaries of electoral politics, communalism, administrative competence and budgetary convenience.

The Union government must step up to the plate since it plays a huge role in determining the response to these incidents, including, most crucially, funding. An intervention in the form of norms for fixing relief, rehabilitation and resettlement amounts or packages could be a solution. States like Assam and Jammu and Kashmir that have a history and a higher probability of displacement could pass legislation based on these norms.

The laws need to address important questions like who qualifies as a displaced person and is therefore eligible for assistance, a mechanism for computing humane levels of assistance and a pathway to end the situation of displacement.

It is easy for the concerns of 7.9 lakh displaced persons to be lost amongst the lesser needs of 132 crore Indians. However a nuclear power that is lobbying hard for a seat on the UN Security Council and said to be preparing for a manned Mars mission should be expected to assist its most vulnerable citizens to dignity and safety. More so because its failure to ensure security or the rule of law are the root cause of their conditions.

The government of India must come up with a policy that can protect the rights of those who become victims of the failure of law and order in the country.