Centre is not a party to SC/ST case, says Prasad

Ravi Shankar Prasad

Ravi Shankar Prasad  

‘Union govt. was allowed to make submissions in court’

A day after the Congress accused Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad of making a “misleading statement” that the Centre was not a party to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act case in the Supreme Court, Mr. Prasad reiterated his stand.

“I stand by my stand that the Centre was not a formal party to the case,” the Law Minister told The Hindu on Wednesday.

Stating that the original criminal complaint filed by Satish Balkrishna Bhishe, a resident of Pune, was against the State of Maharashtra and B.K. Gaikwad, another resident of Pune, the Minister said the Centre was allowed to make “submissions” in the court.

He, however, declined to respond to specific charges levelled by the Congress on Tuesday, citing “propriety” since the Centre’s review petition is being heard again by the top court.

On Tuesday, Congress’s communication chief Randeep Singh Surjewala said the Supreme Court had given notice to the Attorney-General on November 20 last year since “the case involved interpreting Central statutes”.

“When the entire architecture of a sensitive law like this is redone, the apex court should have asked the Centre to respond on facts and not just because interpretation,” said a senior official who preferred to be anonymous.

Law Ministry officials also maintain that since the SC/ST Act is a Central law that is uniformly enforced by the States, views of the State governments should have been sought.

“The judgment talks about protecting the fundamental right of a citizen under Article 21. But in our view, it cannot be read without referring to Article 17 of the Constitution that prohibits untouchability and other such discriminatory practices,” said another senior Law Ministry official.

Change in stand

On Tuesday, hearing the Centre’s review petition, the Supreme Court questioned the government for changing its stand in the court. “The Union itself had said there was abuse,” observed Justice A.K. Goel, who is part of the two-judge Supreme Court Bench comprising Justice U.U. Lalit.

Amrendra Sharan, who assisted the court as amicus curiae (friend of the court), also said that the March 20 judgment was based on the government’s views about abuse of the 1989 enacted SC/ST Act. “In our written submission, paragraph 15, we have unambiguously said that the government is committed to protecting the 1989 law along with the amendments carried out in 2015,” asserted the senior government official.

In its ruling on March 20, the Supreme Court banned immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member.

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