Updated: March 22, 2021 9:16:01 am
The Gujarat government has sought the guidance of the Union Government regarding orders of a court in Banaskantha of North Gujarat directing recovery of compensation paid to Dalit complainants/victims in cases registered under The Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, better known as Atrocity Act.
During a discussion in the budget session of the Gujarat Assembly on Wednesday, Congress MLA from Dasada constituency, Naushad Solanki, said the Gujarat government has not cared to file appeals against orders of a special trial court in Banaskantha district that ordered to recover the compensation amount paid to Dalit complainants/victims in cases under the Atrocity Act where the accused had been acquitted.
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In reply, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Ishvar Parmar said that the Gujarat government has sought margadarshan (guidance) of the Central Government and is pursuing the matter seriously.
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What are the orders passed by the special trial court in Banaskantha?
A special trial court of Banaskantha district had passed three separate judgments in cases involving charges under the Atrocity Act between 2018 and 2019. And in all of them, while acquitting the accused of charges under the Act, the court directed the state Social Welfare Department to recover compensation amount paid to the Dalits complainants/victims in the cases. In two of the three cases, Dalit women victims had accused upper-caste men of harassment. Ruling that the charges under Atrocity Act were false, the court ordered to recover compensation from the Dalit complainants/victims while observing that the ‘menace” of registering false complaints of Dalit atrocities to get compensation from the government “cannot be overlooked”.
Why did the Gujarat government seek opinion of the Central government in the matter?
Minister Ishvar Parmar said that his department had sought the opinion of the legal department in these matters on whether to file an appeal in the High Court or not. However, he said, the legal department gave the opinion in the negative and since the Atrocity Act is a Central Act, Union Government’s guidance has been sought in the matter.
A senior officer of the Social Justice & Empowerment department (SJED), who requested anonymity, said, “There is no provision in the Atrocity Act to recover the compensation amount already paid to the complainant/victim. Yet, the court has ordered recovery. There are many issues involved here. Once a person has been given compensation, he/she could have consumed it and if the person is from a poor background, how can we recover the amount from him/her.”
“Moreover, the Act and its rules have provided to pay part of the compensation amount to the victim at the time of registration of the FIR itself. So, there must have been some thinking behind the legislation . Otherwise, why will there be a provision to give compensation at the time of FIR itself?” the officer added.
What was the opinion of the Legal department of the Gujarat government and what guidance the SJED has sought from the Centre?
The SJED officer said the Legal Department of Gujarat government opined in the negative on filing an appeal in the higher forum.
“They (Legal Department) gave a general suggestion that there is no provision to go for an appeal (in such a matter) and rest we could decide on our own since this is a Central Act. They left it on us (SJED) whether to file an appeal or not. So, then we have sought the guidance of the Union government on the matter since it is a Central Act.”
The state government approached the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment of the Union government on what to do next with regard to the court judgments in July last year on whether the compensation should be recovered and if yes, how. The Union government’s response is awaited, even as the SJED sent a reminder last month.
What do the activists say?
Social activists say that the Gujarat government is not required to seek any opinion from anybody to file an appeal against the judgments since there is no provision to recover the compensation in the Atrocity Act.
One such activist, Kaushik Parmar said, “It is a duty of the SJED and Gujarat government to file appeals in the matter. Not filing an appeal despite it being a fit case for the same shows anti-Dalit approach of the Gujarat government.”
“They (Gujarat government) are not performing their duty and are doing formality of seeking such opinion which has no meaning. The Gujarat government should file an appeal at the earliest; they neither did it on their own nor after representations by various activists including me.”
What are the compensation provisions in the Atrocity Act?
Under the provisions of the Atrocity Act, the state government pays monetary compensation to Dalit/Tribal victims. The compensation amount varies depending on the gravity of the alleged offences; in the case of murder it is Rs 8.25 lakh, rape or gangrape Rs 5 lakh, sexual harassment Rs 2 lakh, preventing entry into religious/cultural/social places Rs 1 lakh and making derogatory remakrs Rs 1 lakh. Generally, 25 per cent of the compensation amount is paid at the time of registering the FIR, 50 per cent after the chargesheet is submitted and the remaining 25 per cent when the case is proved in the trial court.
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