Modi government now keen on tougher SC/ST Atrocities Act

After sitting on a key Bill to strengthen the law against atrocities on people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Modi government now appears keen on pushing it through during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, possibly with an eye on the forthcoming Bihar Assembly elections.

The United Progressive Alliance government had promulgated the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance on March 4, 2014, just before the Lok Sabha elections. But the new government, after bringing the Bill in Parliament in July that year, ensured that it was sent to a Standing Committee. The ordinance has since lapsed.

The Congress argued against sending the Bill to the committee as most parties supported the legislation. “The other ordinance that the BJP got from the UPA, on empowering the financial watchdog SEBI, was passed as a Bill in August 2014. And the BJP doesn’t send even the most contentious Bills to standing committees unless forced to,” pointed out a member of the Congress SC/ST Cell.

RSS opposition

Sections in the Congress allege that that the BJP is delaying the introduction of the Bill because the RSS believes that it can be misused to file false cases against members of the upper castes.

The Bill seeks to strengthen the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, by adding new categories of actions to be treated as offences. For instance, forcing an individual from a Scheduled community to vote or not to vote for a candidate unlawfully and occupying land belonging to such individuals wrongfully will now be treated as offences.

The Bill specifies punishment for public servants from other communities who neglect their duties relating to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe people, such as not registering a complaint or a First Information Report. The Bill mandates the setting up of special courts at the district level, with exclusive public prosecutors for each special court, to speed up the trial process.

A contentious clause, even during the UPA regime, is one that states that mere acknowledgement of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe status of a victim is sufficient to establish guilt.

These measures were thought necessary since the original Act had failed to deter crimes. National Crime Records Bureau figures show that cases registered under the Act in conjunction with Indian Penal Code provisions increased from 38,449 in 2010 to 46,114 in 2013. More worryingly, the conviction rate under the law stands at below 30 per cent in several States.

Tabled in December

The Standing Committee tabled its report on the Bill last December, affirming most of its provisions and adding some important clauses on special courts for atrocities against women, which would be presided over by a woman judge.

The government, however, did not table the Bill for discussion during the Budget Session, prompting Congress president Sonia Gandhi to write to the Prime Minister, pointing to a distressing rise in the incidence of atrocities against Dalits and urging the government to act.

A senior BJP MP denied that the government’s decision to list the Bill for the Monsoon Session had anything to do with Ms. Gandhi’s letter or that anyone in the BJP had reservations about the Bill. The delay, he said, was simply to study the recommendations of the Standing Committee and see if they could be incorporated.

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Printable version | Sep 21, 2021 5:18:21 PM |

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