To pressurise the Union Government and its law enforcement agencies to ensure better implementation of the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, civil society groups in New Delhi have announced a national campaign which will culminate in a rally on November 23 at the Capital’s Ramlila Maidan.
Addressing a Press conference here, Manjula Pradeep of the National Coalition for Strengthening SCs and STs Prevention of Atrocities Act said two decades of monitoring of the law had proved that its implementation on the ground has been “far from satisfactory”. The main thrust of the campaign is to make the Government reassess the Act’s implementation and fill up the lacunae because of which it has substantially failed to prevent violence against Dalits and tribals, she added.
Ms. Pradeep said there were around 98 forms of untouchability, some of which were violent in nature, and still out of the scope of the atrocity law. Caste, gender and ethnicity intersect in all the cases of violence against tribal and Dalit women, but the law does not recognise the complex nature of violence and thereby the perpetrators finally get acquitted, she added.
Dr. Prasad Sirivella, general secretary of the National Dalit Movement for Justice, highlighted that as per the National Crime Records Bureau data the daily average of crimes registered under the SCs and STs POA Act was 93. In comparison the conviction rate was a mere 30 per cent with over 80 per cent of atrocity cases pending trial every year.
NCSPA, a coalition of around 150 NGOs from 18 States, has been lobbying for amendments to the Act which has not seen any changes since its inception in 1989. The coalition has jointly proposed some amendments like “adding new categories of offences that are systematic in nature and repeatedly committed across the country such as untouchability-based discriminatory offences, denial of forests rights to the existing punishable offences in the POA Act.”
Some of the other proposed amendments include adding “a separate chapter in the Act on the rights of victims and witnesses”, deleting “such terms as ‘intent’, ‘intention’, ‘wilful’, ‘public place’, and ‘on the ground” and “providing for Special Courts and Special Public Prosecutors to exclusively try the offences falling under the Act so as to enable speedy disposal of the cases”.
Dalit rights activists want the Government to bring the amendments in the coming winter session of Parliament.
Paul Diwakar of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights said the Government has largely accepted most of the proposed amendments. According to sources, sub-committees constituted by the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment are going through the amendments at present. The National Advisory Council is also studying them and is expected to come up with its final recommendations.