After Lok Sabha MPs, three ministers in the Narendra Modi government Thursday stressed the need for a review petition following the Supreme Court’s decision to dilute stringent provisions under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
While Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot took a more cautious stand that such a petition would require the law ministry’s inputs, two NDA allies Minister of State for Social Justice Ramdas Athawale, who heads Republican Party of India (A), and Union Cabinet Minister and chief of Lok Jan Shakti Party (LJP) Ram Vilas Paswan said the Centre should file a review petition.
Gehlot told The Indian Express that he discussed the Supreme Court order Thursday with Law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and BJP National chief Amit Shah. “They said that they will study the matter and we will take further action on their directions. For now, It looks like there might be a need for a review petition, but the final decision will be based on what our law minister advises,” he said.
His junior minister Athawale said he was unhappy with the Supreme Court order and termed it “one-sided and unjust to Dalits and Adivasis”. Athawale too said he met with Shah and Jaitley and that the former assured him that he has directed Law Minister Prasad to study the court order and take a decision on filing a review petition.
“The Congress has alleged that the government lawyers did not argue the case properly in the court. But the government is ready for a review petition. This government is not anti-Dalit but is concerned about the issue of Dalit atrocities. It was Modi government that moved amendments to the Atrocities Act in 2015 and made it stronger,” he said.
While the Supreme Court order was criticised by Dalit rights groups and even Dalit MPs from BJP as weakening the legislation, the Congress hit out at the government for the inept handling of the case by the Additional Solicitor General.
Citing misuse of the Atrocities Act, the two-judge Supreme Court bench of Justices UU Lalit and AK Goel Tuesday laid down stringent safeguards, including provisions for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary inquiry” before registering a case under the Act.
Athawale said that he disagreed with the apex court’s view that there were many false cases. “When a Dalit girl is raped, a Dalit boy is murdered for falling his love with a girl of another caste, a Dalit’s house is burnt, he is assaulted, the Atrocities Act should apply automatically. Every year, the police register 47,000 cases under the Act. Of these, the rare possibility of false cases occurs if two people have a disagreement and the Atrocities Act is slapped on the non-SC person on the grounds that he verbally abused the SC person by his caste name,” he said.
According to him, the Atrocities Act was enacted in 1989 after data showed Dalit atrocities had increased despite the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. “The law was brought in following a detailed discussion in Parliament where all MPs agreed on the need for a stronger legislation that makes the offence non-bailable. How can the court allow anticipatory bail in such a case? Also, the Act does not say anything about taking prior sanction of a higher authority before arresting the accused. No higher officer is greater than the law. The law is the final word,” he said,
He also said that in the name of “misuse”, the SC order diluted a very important legislation for Dalit rights. “The law was not brought in to do further injustice to Dalits but to act against those who subject them to any injustice,” he said.
Paswan said his party would examine the legal options – because the LJP is not a party in the case – and then file a review petition next week on its own. He said that he had spoken to Gehlot and now LJP leaders would also meet BJP president Amit Shah on the issue soon.
“There is an atmosphere of despair among SCs and STs due to the order,” Paswan said. Pointing out that act was made more stringent by the Narendra Modi government, he said that the Congress was taking undue advantage of the matter and using it for political gains and hence it was necessary for the BJP to send out a message by filing a review petition.
LJP parliamentary board Chairperson Chirag Paswan said that dilution of the Atrocities Act could lead to an increase in atrocities against SCs and STs, in which crime is committed against them only because they are from a particular caste. He said that the Act was a legal arm for SCs and STs to protect themselves from exploitation.
Retired IAS officer, P S Krishnan, who was Secretary to the government of India when the Mandal notification was issued, wrote to Gehlot that the government would need to move the Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989) and its Amendment brought in 2015 to the Ninth Schedule for protection from judicial review.
He also said, “In the petition/appeal, the government must present a holistic picture such as the socio-historical background of the Act, the extreme vulnerability of the SCs and STs and the importance of not diluting any of the provisions of the Act.”
An important voice in the Dalit/Tribal rights discourse, Krishnan said: “Any delay in taking action by the Government will result in adverse conclusion being drawn by the SCs and STs, linking with the piling up of huge Post-Matric Scholarship arrears and the ill-conceived order of the UGC dated March 5, 2018 with the approval of the Ministry of HRD, which the Government… is now seeking to reverse and apparently intends to file a review petition in the Supreme Court.”