In line with his remarks Monday that several Dalit MPs have “expressed concern” over the “wrong message” sent by the appointment of Justice (retd) A K Goel as National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairman since he is “the judge who ruled against” the SC/ST Act, Union Minister and LJP leader Ram Vilas Paswan has written to Home Minister Rajnath Singh, saying the All India Ambedkar Mahasabha (AIAM), a Dalit rights coalition, has sought removal of Justice Goel from the post.
He said the AIAM has also asked the government to bring in a Bill in the ongoing session of Parliament to safeguard the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and “take immediate action in the interest of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes”.
Paswan’s son and Lok Sabha MP Chirag Paswan, in a separate letter to the Prime Minister, has reiterated these demands. “To prevent a repeat of the April 2 episode (when Dalits called a nationwide protest), the government should immediately dismiss Justice A K Goel from the post of the NGT chairman,” he said.
Several SC/ST organisations have called for protests on August 9.
Justice Goel’s appointment to the NGT post, Chirag Paswan said, had sent out a message to SCs and STs that he was being “rewarded”.
Justice Goel was one of two judges on a Supreme Court bench — the other being Justice U U Lalit — which on March 20 laid down stringent safeguards, including provisions for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary enquiry” before registration of a case under the Act.
The judges noted that there had been “instances of abuse” of the Act by “vested interests” for political or personal reasons.
This ruling angered the Dalits who felt it was a dilution of the special law meant for their safety. On July 6, Justice Goel retired from the Supreme Court and was appointed NGT chairman that very day by the government.
Last Saturday, a meeting was held with Dalit rights coalition All India Ambedkar Mahasabha at Paswan’s residence. Paswan’s letter puts forward a significant demand raised by the Dalit rights group — of increasing their representation in the higher judiciary and, more so, in the Supreme Court which does not have a single Dalit judge.
Holding the Collegium system of appointment of judges responsible for this omission, the letter states that “Parliament should bring in a law that ensures reservation for SC, ST, OBC and women in the High Courts and the Supreme Court”.
The letter has also said that the government must bring in reservation in the private sector, end outsourcing of jobs in Class III and Class IV jobs, and do a rethink on the lateral entry policy in the central bureaucracy that bypasses the UPSC process and, thereby, scuttles reservation. It also asked the Home Minister to release Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar and others booked under the National Security Act.
AIAM chairperson Ashok Bharti said: “While thousands of SC/ ST protesters were arrested all over in the aftermath of the April 2 bandh against the apex court ruling, Justice A K Goel, who gave the order, has been rewarded by the government with a post-retirement posting as the National Green Tribunal chairperson.”
BJP MP and Dalit leader Udit Raj echoed concerns raised in Paswan’s letter. He told The Indian Express: “There are many issues which are the cause of this disgruntlement. The foundation is the lack of jobs for Dalits with recruitment almost frozen in the government sector. And now the UGC’s new guidelines have made it almost impossible for them to get teaching jobs too. There has to be reservation in private sector. This frustration over lack of jobs was evident during the April 2 bandh when the youth came out in large numbers.”
The SC/ST Act, Udit Raj said, has to be strengthened through a Bill during the current session or through an Ordinance soon after. “The government has to consider all these issues very soon,” he said.