MPs of the ruling NDA have expressed two divergent views of the Supreme Court order on the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. While Dalits MPs in the BJP have urged the party leadership and the government to take immediate steps to protect the rights of the community, many non-Dalit MPs have welcomed the ruling saying there had been many instances of the provisions of the Act being misused.
A day after BJP MPs, including head of its Scheduled Caste cell Vinod Kumar Sonkar, sought that the government file a review plea in the court, the government remained noncommittal over its course of action.
According to a source in the government, the Union Cabinet, which met Wednesday, did not discuss the matter at all. “There will be a structured discussion. Minister of Law and Justice and Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment will sit together to have a structured talks on how the government should go about it,” a senior minister told The Indian Express. “The government will assuage sentiments expressed by the MPs.”
But the BJP leadership appeared uncertain about its stance on the issue. In the morning, a few MPs from the SC community, including Amar Shankar Sable (Rajya Sabha member from Maharashtra), Kaushambi MP Sonkar and Bansgaon MP Kamlesh Paswan got together and said the party leadership would take the right step. “We are sure the party leadership will take a favourable decision. The party and the government will examine the verdict and take necessary measures to ensure that Dalits and Tribals get justice,” Sable said.
The apex court laid down stringent safeguards Tuesday, including provisions for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary enquiry” before registering a case under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, while noting that there had been “instances of abuse” by “vested interests” for political or personal reasons. The order said that if the accused is a public servant, he can only be arrested with the permission of the appointing authority. And if the accused is not a public servant, prior permission of the senior superintendent of police of the district will be required.
The Indian Express reported Wednesday that Dalit MPs of the ruling party wanted the government to file a review petition in the Supreme Court.
The non-Dalit MPs have, meanwhile, welcomed the order, saying it would stop misuse of the Act.
Gopal Chinayya Shetty, BJP MP from Mumbai North, and Ramesh Bidhuri, MP from South Delhi, said the Supreme Court’s decision would “stop misuse” of the Act. “There have been many instances of provisions in the law being misused. This will stop it,” Shetty said. He admitted, however, that the new Supreme Court order, too, could be misused.
Bidhuri said, “This is a very good order. In fact, the Supreme Court should also should make changes in provisions in sexual harassment laws. There are women who make money by misusing the provisions.”
Several MPs representing BJP allies, too, welcomed the decision.
Rashtriya Lok Samta Party MP from Sitamarhi Ram Kumar Sharma said, “A preliminary inquiry must be done on the allegations before further action. That Act safeguards Scheduled Castes but it is also misused.”
Shiv Sena MP (Yavatmal-Washim) Bhawana Gawali Patil welcomed the Supreme Court ruling and said the Act was was misused both by the Scheduled Castes and general castes. Patil said the Act “was formed for protection of Dalits but people had started using Scheduled Caste people as tools to lodge case against upper-caste persons to take revenge”. “It is good that now inquiry will be done before lodging the case,” she said.