IN ITS first public remarks on the issue, the central government said Thursday that it is examining the “desirability” of filing a judicial review against the Supreme Court order last week that laid down stringent safeguards before registering a case under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad said the Department of Legal Affairs has been instructed to “consider the desirability of filing a review” and that “appropriate action” will be taken once the ministry tenders its opinion.
“There is widespread concern regarding this issue. We understand the sensitivity of the matter. The government has taken note of the judgment of the Supreme Court laying down new norms as far as the SC and ST Act’s operation is concerned. I have instructed the Ministry of Law to consider the desirability of filing a review. Appropriate follow-up actions are to be taken by the ministry,” Prasad said.
The move comes a day after a delegation of Dalit MPs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue.
On Wednesday, The Indian Express reported that despite representations and appeals from Dalit MPs for the government’s intervention on the SC’s order on Atrocities Act, the Centre was yet to commit itself to file a review petition.
On March 20, the bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit expressed concern that “working of the SC/ST Atrocities Act should not result in perpetuating casteism” and went on to lay down certain procedures to keep a “check on false implications of innocent citizens on caste lines”.
These include allowing anticipatory bail for the accused, requiring a DySP to conduct a “preliminary enquiry” to rule out “frivolous and motivated” complaints, and mandating prior sanction of an appointing officer or SSP before arresting a public servant or other citizens.
The order drew criticism from various quarters — particularly the norm that mandates a preliminary probe by an officer not below DySP rank before arresting a public servant under the SC/ST Act.
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On March 21, BJP Dalit MPs met Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot and asked him to take up the matter with the Prime Minister. Gehlot is believed to have written to the Law Ministry favouring a judicial review.
NDA ally Lok Janshakti Party, through its leader Chirag Paswan, has also moved the Supreme Court and filed a review petition against the order, stating that the Act had become “toothless” after the introduction of the new rules.