A bill to overturn a Supreme Court order concerning certain safeguards against arrest under the SC/ST law was unanimously passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill 2018 rules out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, notwithstanding any court order.
It also provides that no preliminary enquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.
Replying to the debate on the bill, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot asserted that the NDA government favoured reservation “and will continue to be in favour reservation for SC/ST”. The amendment, he said, will strengthen the legislative provisions to protect SC/ST.
The move to amend the Bill is being seen by the Opposition as a reach-out by the BJP-led NDA government to Dalits, ahead of their proposed nationwide protest later this month to demand restoration of the provisions of the law which, the Dalit groups allege, were diluted by a Supreme Court ruling of March 20.
These groups have been asking the government to overturn a Supreme Court ruling of March 20, saying it had “diluted” and rendered “toothless” the law against atrocities faced by the weakest sections of the society by putting additional safeguards against arrest of the accused.
Gehlot said after the Supreme Court put some restrictions on Article 18 of this Act, the law lost its importance.
“The review petition filed by the government is still pending. Due to delay in the Supreme Court and rising anger among the Dalit community, there was a need to amend Article 18,” the Minister said.
He accepted that 6-7 per cent cases under the Indian Penal Code and 10-12 per cent cases under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were misused. “But citing the misuse of the Act, we can’t allow 88 per cent of Dalits to suffer,” Gehlot asserted.
Participating in the debate, leader of Congress in the House Mallikarjun Kharge said the government should have brought this bill as an Ordinance much earlier. “In recent times, the government has brought as many six Ordinances, they could have brought the 7th Ordinance as well. If there was no public pressure, then the government would not have brought this bill,” Kharge insisted.
The Congress leader urged the government to include the SC/ST Act in the ninth schedule of the Constitution so that it goes out of the jurisdiction of the courts. Kharge also urged the government to withdraw cases against those people who had protested against Supreme Court judgement on April 20.
Citing National Crime Record Bureau data, he said in the last four years, there was a 40 per cent increase in atrocities against Dalits. “Every minute a dalit suffers atrocities. In every week, 11 dalit gets killed, but unfortunately the conviction rate is too low,” he said.
Taking a jibe at the government, Kharge said, “There are 24 lakh vacancies in government jobs. So it should first fill all vacant posts.” He also alleged that people associated with the BJP were involved in lynching incidents against Dalits and Muslims.
P Ravindra Babu (TDP) said the government was not sincere about the concerns of Dalits, else it should have promulgated an ordinance to restore the provisions of the Act following the Supreme Court judgement.
Questioning its intent, he said the government had promulgated six ordinances but “waited” for the Monsoon Session to bring the amendment. Besides, he said, the government rewarded the judge by making him chairperson of an important Tribunal.
Balka Suman (TRS) said if this government had any sympathy for the dalits, the legislation should be included in the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. He also demanded the reservation in the higher judiciary.
Jitendra Choudhary (CPI-M) also pressed for inclusion of this legislation in the 9th Schedule, while Upendra Kushwaha (RLSP) said the legislation has once again proved supremacy of Parliament. He too sought reservation in higher judiciary and removal of 50 per cent cap on the reservation.
Tariq Anwar (NCP) also supported the amendment. Demanding setting up of All India Judicial Services, several members stressed the need for to providing space for SC/ST and dalit community in the country’s judiciary.
Chirag Paswan (LJSP) said that Indian judicial services was need of the hour and the govermment should take it seriously. “There is a need to appoint judges based on competition,” he said adding the government should put this law in the ninth schedule of the Constitution.
Union Minister Anupriya Patel too said that representation of SC/ST and backward community was very low in judiciary and “till the time we would address this issue, such judgements would haunt us”.
She also urged the government to set up All India Judicial Services, observing that “we were not able to provide a level playing field and respect to this community”. She also said that atrocities against this community has increased over the years.
H S Khalsa (AAP) said “we did not provide a system where there could be a meritocracy in judiciary”, while Bhagirath Prasad (BJP) demanded setting up of judicial service.
Supporting the bill, J P N Yadav (RJD) said that the government brought this bill because of public pressure. He also demanded caste based census. “This government is not for Make in India, but they are Back in India,” he added.
Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) this was the “Shahbano moment” and sought to know if the government would call it appeasement of dalits. He also demanded that Muslims be included in the SC/SC Act.
K Suresh (Cong) said the NDA government has rewarded one of the two Supreme Court judges who delivered the controversial judgement in the matter.
Among others who participated in the discussion include E T Mohammed Basheer (IUML), Rattan Lal Kataria (BJP), Kaushlendra Kumar (JD-U), Virender Kashyap (BJP), Dushyant Chautala (INLD), Kirit Solanki (BJP), P S Chandumajra (SAD).