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Friday, January 21, 2022

Maharashtra allows lower-ranked officers to probe Atrocities Act cases

Currently, all police cases registered under the Act are probed by assistant commissioner of police-rank officers, who is senior to PI and APIs.

Written by Vallabh Ozarkar | Mumbai |
Updated: January 16, 2022 9:09:03 am
Vinay Koregaonkar, Additional Director General (Protection of Civil Rights), confirmed that they have received the letter from the government. "We will respond to the letter," he added. (Representational)

The state law and judiciary department has recently approved a proposal to grant powers to officers of the rank of police inspector (PI) and assistant police inspector (API) to investigate police cases filed under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Currently, all police cases registered under the Act are probed by assistant commissioner of police-rank officers, who is senior to PI and APIs.

Dalit activists have decried the move, calling it an attempt to dilute the Act.

The state government has written to the Maharashtra DGP on January 10, asking him to submit a draft notification regarding granting powers of investigation under the Act to police inspectors (Group A) and assistant police inspectors (Group B).

At present, as per the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, “an offence committed under the Act shall be investigated by a police officer not below the rank of a deputy superintendent of police”.

Explained

Overwhelming numbers

The proposal to allow PIs and APIs to probe these cases was the result of a large number of pending cases lodged under the Atrocity Act in the state, and the low detection and conviction rates in such cases.

The proposal to allow police inspectors to investigate these cases was mooted due to the pendency of cases lodged under the Atrocity Act in the state and the low detection and conviction rates in such cases. Officials said that it was felt that senior officers were burdened with too many cases.

“The number ACPs and deputy superintendents are limited. It has been noticed that each officer is burdened with almost 40-50 cases. Also, they have responsibilities of the police stations under them,” said a senior officer.

Vinay Koregaonkar, Additional Director General (Protection of Civil Rights), confirmed that they have received the letter from the government. “We will respond to the letter,” he added.

Disha Wadekar, a Supreme Court lawyer, however, said: “This is a central law and the rules were formulated with the approval of the Parliament. With what power or under what provision is the state government trying to dilute the rules by an executive action?”

Wadekar added that the intent was to prevent the dominant caste influencing PI and API-level officers, who often weaken the probe in atrocities cases or file closure reports, resulting in court acquittals.
“The amendment sought by Maharashtra is therefore neither legally sustainable nor moral and can have the effect of making Dalits and Adivasis vulnerable to such rampant atrocities. Handing over the investigation of cases to a junior officer would be a step towards nullifying the law itself,” she said.

Dalit activists, meanwhile, warned of an agitation. “This conspiracy to dilute the law will not be tolerated by the Dalits and Adivasis of Maharashtra. The PI and API are junior officers and often bow to the pressure of local leaders and powerful people. Atrocity cases need to be handled by senior officers only,” advocate Sanjay Dabhade from Jati Ant Sangharsh Samiti said.

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