The Union Cabinet Wednesday approved an amendment to The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to undo ‘dilution’ of the law by the Supreme Court. The Indian Express quoted sources saying that the Act would be amended “to remove any possibility of interpretation by a court of law”. The Centre’s action comes in the wake of protests by Dalit and Adivasi outfits as well as BJP ministers against the apex court’s ruling.
The BJP’s leadership has been trying to assure Dalit groups that the government would take steps to protect their rights and that the said law should not be tampered with.
SC ruling on SC/ST Act
In a ruling on March 20, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit said there were “instances of abuse” of the Act by “vested interests” for political or personal reasons. It, thereafter, laid down guidelines for arrests under the Act “to avoid false implications”.
The court said a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by a DSP to ensure allegations are not “frivolous or motivated” before a case is registered. It added that a public servant, if accused, can be only be arrested with the permission of the appointing authority. Others can be arrested only after permission is granted from the Senior Superintendent of Police of the district. The SSP will have to record in writing the reason for granting permission and hand it to the accused and the concerned court.
Opposition to SC ruling on SC/ST Act
Minority groups and the Opposition criticised the judgment and demanded immediate action by the Centre. Within the NDA, Dalit MPs, including Udit Raj, urged the party leadership and the government to take immediate steps to protect the rights of the community while non-Dalit MPs agreed that provisions in the Act were being misused.
In protests by Dalit groups, at least seven people were killed and over 100 injured in various parts of the country. The issue was raised in Parliament, where MPs urged the Centre to promulgate an Ordinance to restore the Act.
In the face of protests, the Centre filed a review petition in the top court on April 2. In its petition, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment stated: “Alleged potential of misuse would not deserve to be considered as a valid, justifiable or permissible ground for reading down stringent provisions of the PoA (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.” The petition is being heard in the SC.
The Republican Party of India (RPI-A) filed a separate review petition in the SC.
Express Editorial | SC order on SC/ST Act lets down most marginalised, ignores social context of law
Appointment of Justice Goel as NGT chairperson
On July 6, Justice Goel, who was part of the bench that gave the SC/ST ruling, retired from the Supreme Court. He was appointed the chairperson of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on the same day by the government, which did not go down well with the Dalit leaders and outfits. The Indian Express reported that Dalit MPs in the NDA “expressed concern” over the “wrong message” being sent and wrote to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh to reconsider Goel’s appointment.
Union Cabinet Minister Ram Vilas Paswan and his son and Lok Sabha member Chirag Paswan also threatened a stir on August 9 on the SC/ST Act issue.
Members of the Bheem Army, too, have decided to hold a protest at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on August 19 demanding changes to the SC/ST Act. “People belonging to scheduled castes, other backward classes and Muslims have been asked to reach Delhi in large numbers,” said Bheem Army national spokesperson Mandeep Singh Nautiyal.
During the budget session of Parliament, the government informed the Lok Sabha that there were 47,338 cases of crime against members of the SC/ST in 2016.
In the ongoing monsoon of Parliament, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the Union Cabinet will bring the SC/ST bill in the current session.