In a significant development concerning atrocities against Dalits, the Gujarat government’s legal department has refused to appeal against judgements passed by special trial courts directing recovery of compensation amount paid to the victims (complainants) under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act – commonly known as Atrocity Act – if the the case is not proved, and held the judgements as “appropriate”.
The decision was taken after independent MLA Jignesh Mevani and social activist Kaushik Parmar wrote to the state government seeking appeals against the special trial court judgements on the ground that there is no provision in the Atrocity Act to recover compensation already paid to the victims/complainants.
Special trial courts in Deesa of Banaskantha district and Radhanpur in Patan district had passed judgements in criminal cases registered under the provisions of Atrocity Act and other relevant laws.
In the judgements, while acquitting the accused from the charges of Atrocity Act, the special trial courts had ordered the state authorities to recover the compensation already paid to the victim/complainant. There were at least 10 such cases where similar judgments were passed.
In January this year, Mevani and Parmar wrote to the legal department to file appeals against such judgements at the higher forum.
Mevani wrote, “There is no provision in the (Atrocity) Act that if a case is not proved, then the compensation (already paid) has to be recovered (from the complainant-victim) and yet if the court passes such an order, then it is not appropriate. It is the responsibility of the investigating officer and public prosecutor to prove the case in the court of law.”
“Most of the accused in the cases of Atrocity (Act) get acquitted due to negligence of the investigating officer and public prosecutor. If the courts never pass orders to take action against the investigating officer and public prosecutor (for negligence resulting in acquittal of accused), why the orders to recover the compensation (from complainant/victim)” the letter added.
In his representation, Parmar stated, “There is no provision in the Act to recover the compensation amount if the case is not proved and yet the court passes such an order, which is unconstitutional and is itself a kind of atrocity against Dalits.” Parmar also sought the legal department to file appeals against the orders of the courts in Deesa and Radhanpur.
The Legal department wrote back to Mevani, with a copy to Parmar, in a communication dated June 29 and signed by deputy secretary of legal department, L B Nayak, saying the law minister had called a meeting with reference to their representations.
“Additional chief secretary (Home), law secretary and legislative secretary were present in it. After all the discussions and detailed discussion on the judgments of the Gujarat High Court and Madhya Pradesh High Court in connection with the episode, the judgements to recover the compensation amount paid to the victims (complainants) by the state government have been held appropriate. It (the conclusion) has also been approved by the Law Minister,” read the letter.
Under provisions of the Atrocity Act, the state government pays monetary compensation to Dalit/tribal victims. The amount varies depending on the alleged offence. In the case of murder, it is Rs 8.25 lakh, rape or gang rape Rs 5 lakh, sexual harassment Rs 2 lakh, preventing entry into religious, cultural or social places Rs 1 lakh and making derogatory remarks Rs 1 lakh.
Generally, 25% of the compensation is paid at the time of registering the FIR, 50% after the chargesheet is submitted and the remaining 25% when the case is proved in the trial court.
As reported by The Indian Express earlier, the issue of recovering compensation amount if the case is not proved came to light in June 2019 at a high-power state-level vigilance and monitoring committee led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani that oversees the implementation of the Atrocity Act in the state.
In the meeting, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel had asked if there were any legal provisions to recover compensation paid to the complainants, if a case is not established.
In response, the then Principal Secretary of Social Justice & Empowerment department said that no such provision exists in the Atrocity Act and yet the court in Banaskantha had passed orders to recover the compensation. He also told the minister that an appeal would be filed after taking the opinion of the legal department.
However, the legal department has now decided not to go for an appeal in such cases. Reacting to the government decision, Mevani said, “Atrocity Act is a special legislation and no court has the power to go against an Act, which has survived the test of constitutional validity. I may not comment on the judgements passed by the courts, but how come the law minister approves it? This shows Gujarat government’s anti-Dalit mindset.”
Law minister Bhupendrasinh Chudasama could not be contacted despite repeated attempts.