To tackle caste-based oppression and curb powers wielded by extra-judicial institutions such as community panchayats, the Centre is planning to urge other states to replicate Maharashtra’s Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill, sources in the Union government revealed.
A Union cabinet minister said, “Ideally, we should adopt the Maharashtra model at the central level. But we perceive a major challenge from states such as Haryana, Rajasthan, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh, where local panchayats play a major role in governing the lives of people. The Centre may now ask every state to evolve its own law on the lines of Maharashtra, to ensure their local system is not completely uprooted, and yet there is a check on ill-treatment of the disadvantaged.”
Several union ministers, such as Piyush Goyal, Venkaiah Naidu, Prakash Javadekar and Suresh Prabhu, have lauded the state’s Act that criminalises social boycott of individuals and groups.
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Sources said Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has taken up the campaign of “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao”, is likely to focus his attention next on the barbaric treatment of women in the name of traditions enforced by caste and community panchayats.
According to Goyal, “The social boycott Act is pathbreaking. The Centre has taken cognizance of these reforms. The Act has set a precedent for others states to follow.”
A source in the Union ministry of social justice said, “Maharashtra’s model in letter and spirit is absolutely acceptable. But every state will have its own issues, which would require a broader consensus. Ideally, instead of the Centre, it would be better if states are left to evolve their own act.”
The Maharashtra government adopted the Prohibition of Social Boycott Bill on April 13, after a series of backroom parleys with political parties, community leaders, non-government organisations and women’s groups.
A secretary in the state social justice ministry said, “Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis evoked the B R Ambedkar plank to win over political opponents for the Act, arguing that a progressive state cannot be seen dismissing a social boycott bill.”
Under the state’s Act, social boycott invites imprisonment upto five years and a penalty of upto Rs 5 lakh or both.