Dalit activists here have called for an urgent review of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and introduction of amendments to provide more teeth to the statute while classifying acts such as discrimination, social and economic boycott and blackmail as crimes under the legislation.

Making the demands at a symposium marking the completion of 20 years of the SC/ST (PoA) Act here on Sunday, representatives of Dalit organisations regretted that despite the law having been in force for two decades, atrocities against Dalits were increasing and the authorities responsible for implementing the Act were seen siding with the perpetrators of crime.

The symposium was organised jointly by Jaipur-based Centre for Dalit Rights, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and the National Dalit Movement for Justice.

The SC/ST (PoA) Act, which received the Presidential assent on September 11, 1989 and came into effect on January 30, 1990, invests the State actors with the responsibility to prevent atrocities and provide protection, relief and rehabilitation to the affected people belonging to SC and ST.

CDR Director Satish Kumar pointed out that the National Crime Records Bureau’s figures had revealed that 71 per cent of the atrocities against Dalits and tribals reported between 1995 and 2007 were not registered under the Act. Even in the matters where the Act was applied, proper sections were not used, investigation took more than 30 days and compensation was not paid.

The participants noted with dismay that the rate of conviction under the SC/ST (PoA) Act was less than that under the Indian Penal Code. They said the criminals booked under the Act could be handed down punishment commensurate with the crime after conviction only if the legislation was strengthened through suitable amendments.

Dalit organisations have already submitted draft amendments to the Union Government after wide-ranging discussions with a cross-section of civil society. A National Coalition for Strengthening of SC/ST (PoA) Act was also formed in September last year.

Dalit activists said the punishment for various crimes listed in the Act should be enhanced in accordance with the gravity of offence and special courts and public prosecutors appointed all over the country to ensure speedy trial under the statute.

“Higher castes resorting to social and economic boycott of Dalits, filing counter cases, refusing to pay wages to Dalit labourers, ransacking houses of Dalits and discriminating against Dalit children in schools do not constitute offences under the Act,” said CDR chairman R. K. Akodia and added that these discrepancies should be removed.

The participants also said the definition of Scheduled Castes for the purpose of the SC/ST (PoA) Act should be amended to include all the persons whose ancestors belonged to Dalit castes in Hinduism and later converted to Islam and Christianity.

The activists also suggested that a new chapter titled “rights of victims and witnesses” be incorporated in the Act with the provisions such as mandatory registration of FIR, investigation and inquiry, protection, medical examination and reports, relief, compensation and rehabilitation.

Among others, Dalit activists P. L. Mimroth, Toshita Verma, Anuradha Gharti and Yamini addressed the symposium.