Lok Sabha gives SC/ST Act more teeth with amendment

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on August 06, 2018 Published on August 06, 2018

Leader of the Congress in the Lok Saba, Mallikarjun Kharge   -  V Sudershan

An apex court ruling in March had ‘diluted’ provisions of the law

A Bill seeking to reverse a March 20 Supreme Court order, which purportedly diluted provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday. The charged discussions also witnessed demands by MPs to park the law in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution so that it is beyond judicial review.

A number of parties, including the ruling NDA’s members Shiv Sena and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP), called for nullifying the Supreme Court-imposed limit of 50 per cent on all reservation. The Shiv Sena cited the ongoing Maratha protests in Maharashtra to validate its case against the cap on quota.

While the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018, found support across party lines, the government was bitterly critiqued for not protecting the spirit of the original law before the apex court, and conceding to nullify the judicial review only after violent, countrywide protests broke out on April 2 and several Dalit agitators were killed.

The demand for inclusion of the Act in the Ninth Schedule was raised by the Congress and supported by the CPI(M) and the Samajwadi Party (SP).

The Supreme Court order had banned registration of cases and immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring anyone belonging to SC/ST communities. It held that public servants cannot be prosecuted without the approval of the appointing authority and private citizens can be arrested only after an inquiry under the law. It also said that a preliminary inquiry under the Act would be conducted by an officer of the level of Deputy Superintendent of Police to ensure that the allegations are not superficial.

This has largely been perceived as a dilution of the original Act of 1989 aimed at protecting historically and traditionally oppressed communities against whom a crime is committed every 15 minutes.

The SC judgment was followed on April 2 by a country-wide bandh which witnessed widespread violence claiming nine lives. The government has brought in an amendment Bill to reverse the SC ruling and while supporting the amendment, the Opposition, as well as some members of the NDA said the ruling party should have done much more to protect the rights of these communities.

“The government did not defend the one law that provides protection to the most oppressed sections of the society because organically and ideologically, the ruling party does not believe in the democratic spirit that our Constitution imposes…Why else would there be silence from the top when ministers in the government and those in the RSS say that they want to change the Constitution?,” said Congress MP Mallikarjun Kharge.

SP-BSP camaraderie

Among the more charged MPs was Dharmendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP), who said that not only was the 50 per cent cap on reservation without any socio-political basis, the BJP, which is ruling at the Centre and Uttar Pradesh, is affected by an “elitist and casteist” mindset. Yadav was also eager to display the support of the SP’s new-found ally, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

“When Akhilesh Yadav vacated the chief ministerial residence in Uttar Pradesh, it was washed and purified with gangajal for the benefit of the present CM. It was done because Akhilesh Yadav belongs to a backward community. Such is the mindset of these people. In Hamirpur recently, when their MP, who is also a Dalit, visited a temple, the idols were purified and the temple washed after her departure. Our Behenji, the BSP chief and former CM of UP Mayawati, resigned from her Rajya Sabha seat last year because of rising atrocities against Dalits in UP.”

Welcoming the amendment to the original Act, Minister of State for Human Resource Development, Upendra Kushwaha, said the law was “only a painkiller and not a cure” for caste oppression in India.

Published on August 06, 2018
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