Following protests by Dalit groups and BJP ministers against ‘dilution’ of the The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by the Supreme Court to prevent its abuse, the Modi government, at the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, August 1, cleared an amendment to the law to overturn the apex court’s order.
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit had said on March 20 that there were “instances of abuse” of the Act by “vested interests” for political or personal reasons. In their ruling, they laid down guidelines for arrests under the Act “to avoid false implications”.
The court said a preliminary enquiry, not exceeding seven days, 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.
In order to nullify the Supreme Court verdict in the SC/ST Act case, the Central government has proposed a new provision in the statute. The amendment Bill seeks to insert Section 18A in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, reported News18.
Section 18A tends to override the apex court judgment in March. According to this new Section, there will not be any requirement to conduct a preliminary inquiry before an FIR is to be registered. According to the Bill, any provision for conducting preliminary inquiry will delay the investigation and thus filing of the chargesheet.
The new law would also to do away with the requirement of obtaining permission before arresting a person, including public officials. It says that “arrest, if necessary, of a person shall not require any approval,” reported News18.
The proposed Section also moves to invalidate another directive by the top court by which a provision for pre-arrest bail was sought to be introduced in the statute. “The provision of Section 438 of the CrPC (anticipatory bail) shall not apply to a case under this Act, notwithstanding any judgment or any order of any court,” the proposed law says.
The proposed Bill has already received the approval of the Cabinet and it is likely to be introduced in the ongoing session of the Parliament.
In bringing this amendment, Modi government’s hand was forced by nationwide protests and threat of agitation from various Dalit groups which claimed that the dilution of the Act by the judgment will lead to more discrimination and crime against the backward community.
In protests by Dalit groups, at least seven people were killed and over 100 injured in various parts of the country.
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.
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.
Faced with protests, the Centre had filed a review petition in the top court on April 2. However, said media reports, the Supreme Court refused to stay its ruling and asked all parties to submit detailed replies, leading to the demand from Dalit groups that the government introduce an ordinance or an Amendment Bill to restore the earlier provisions.
Protests intensified when the government appointed Justice AK Goel, who authored the 20 March verdict, as the Chairman of the National Green Tribunal on the day of his retirement from the Court. 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.
The issue was raised in Parliament, where MPs urged the Centre to promulgate an Ordinance to restore the Act.
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.
The SC/ST Act was originally passed in 1955 by the Parliament as the Untouchability (Offences) Act, recalled a report on news portal Firstpost. It was renamed as the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act in 1976 but the law was considered ineffective in 1980s and replaced with the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 1989. In 2015, more offences were brought under its ambit by including acts like tonsuring of head, moustache of backward caste people by upper-castes as a criminal activity.