Following a call for shutdown in Punjab on April 2 by various Dalit communities against the Supreme Court’s amendments under the SC/ST Atrocities Act, Captain Amarinder Singh-led state government announced that all public transport services would be temporarily suspended on Monday. Banks, educational institutions will remain closed and mobile internet services will be suspended in the state. CBSE exams for tomorrow has been postponed in view of the bandh call, as reported by news agency ANI, while the PSEB practical exams have been rescheduled to April 11.
The orders were issued after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh reviewed the security arrangements with top police and administration officials in the evening. It was followed by a video conference involving the Chief Secretary, deputy commissioners and other senior officials of all districts, the spokesperson said in a statement.
Security has also been beefed up ahead of tomorrow’s protests. A large contingent of police force has been deployed at various parts of the state and the Army has also been roped in. Punjab Chief Secy Karan A Singh, in a letter to the Secretary, Dept of Defence, said, “Army in Punjab to remain ready for any eventuality as state govt may need their assistance in maintaining law and order.” Four battalions each of the Rapid Action Force and the Border Security Force, and 12,000 additional police personnel will remain on duty tomorrow to maintain law and order.
Valmiki leader Dharamvir Sethi has called for a complete shutdown of Punjab’s Phagwara. Addressing the protesters last week, senior Valmiki community leaders Dharamvir Sethi alleged that the Modi government was anti-Dalit. The agitators also burnt an effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the protest, reported PTI.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh appealed the Dalit community to maintain peace and harmony in the state. Noting Punjab had the highest population of Scheduled Castes in the country, constituting nearly 32 percent of state’s population, a statement issued from the CM’s office, said that his government “accords the highest priority to ensure their all-round welfare and committed to safeguard their interests”.
“The Chief Minister said that the Punjab Government was already committed for the welfare of Scheduled Castes, which was evident from the fact that the Punjab Vidhan Sabha unanimously adopted a resolution to express solidarity with our SC brethren during its recently concluded Budget Session seeking the NDA Government’s intervention to legally pursue the case in which a Supreme Court verdict had diluted provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” a spokesperson for the Chief Minister said, reported IANS.
Several dalit groups have also called for a nation-wide strike agaisnt the dilution of the act. Political outfits – the Prakash Ambedkar-led Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh, the Peasants and Workers Party, the Janata Dal, and the Communist Party of India – and Left-backed unions including the Centre of Indian Trade Unions have come out in support of the protest. The Rashtriya Seva Dal, the Jati Aant Sangharsh Samiti, the Sanvidhan Sanvardhan Samiti, and National Dalit Movement for Justice, among others have also joined the protest.
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The government, meanwhile, has decided to file a review petition against the apex court’s orders. “There is widespread concern regarding this issue. We understand the sensitivity of the matter. The government has taken note of the judgment of the Supreme Court laying down new norms as far as the SC and ST Act’s operation is concerned. I have instructed the Ministry of Law to consider the desirability of filing a review. Appropriate follow-up actions are to be taken by the ministry,” Prasad said. The move comes a day after a delegation of Dalit MPs met Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the issue.
(With inputs from agencies)