The BJP-led government in Maharashtra is set to recommend to the Centre that changes be made to the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act to ensure that the law is not “misused” — a key demand of Marathas who have been protesting across the state after the brutal rape and murder of a girl from their community in Ahmednagar’s Kopardi village in July.
Sources, however, said the state government wants to simultaneously ensure that the rights of Dalits are not compromised.
According to sources, the state will propose that a preliminary verification be carried out by police before an individual is charged under the Act, to ensure people are not “falsely implicated”.
“A group of ministers, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, has started the process of addressing the demands — not just of Marathas but also of Dalits and OBCs, who are growing increasingly apprehensive in the face of the Maratha show of might,” a source said.
When contacted, Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Ramdas Athawale said, “If the state government brings to the fore some shortcomings (in the Act) which need a re-look to stop its misuse, it can be considered by the Centre. However, there is unanimity that the Act should remain and serve its stated objective to protect the rights of Dalits and tribals.”
However, Dr B R Ambedkar’s grandson and president of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, Prakash Ambedkar, raised doubts over whether there was any scope for “misuse” in the Act. “The Atrocities Act was recently amended. Earlier, it was a non-bailable offence, but now it is bailable.
There are adequate provisions in the law to prevent misuse. In many cases, Dalits are used by two groups of Marathas to settle their power tussle. This should be checked,” he said.
The state government will look at data and consult legal experts before approaching the Centre, sources said. A senior state cabinet minister, who did not wish to be named, said, “Statistics indicate that out of 43,000 cases registered under the Atrocities Act across India, only 4,000 so far are from Maharashtra. Data also shows that the number of atrocities registered in western Maharashtra is around 40, while a higher number of cases were registered in Marathwada.”
Marathwada’s eight districts have a higher percentage of Dalits — between 16-25 per cent — as compared to other regions in the state.
Officials in Maharashtra’s Social Justice Ministry maintain that the state has always led from the front in enforcing social reforms. Last year, the state government introduced a law to end social boycott in the name of tradition, rituals and customs by “jati panchayats”.
“If we find that there are some aspects in the present SC/ST Atrocities Act, which can make it completely flawless and serve the real objective of protecting Dalits and also ensuring Marathas are not subjected to false charges, we will make recommendations to the Centre,” an official said.