By Dr VA Ramesh Nathan* and PS Krishnan**
Dalits and Adivasis communities, leaders and activists have been waiting with bated breath for the long-delayed Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 to be passed by the Parliament and come into force. On August 4th 2015, in a significant and historic moment in the Parliament, Hon’ble Minister Shri Thaawar Chand Gehlot of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment introduced the Bill for discussion in the Lok Sabha. The Lok Sabha subsequently passed the Bill at 18:47 (IST) in the on-going Monsoon session (2015) of the Parliament. The SCs and STs Community welcomes this historic move.
Further, the National Coalition for Strengthening of SCs & STs Prevention of Atrocities comprising of 500 Dalit and Adivasi organisations from across the country looks upon the NDA Government with great expectation and hope to move the Bill in Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing, ensuring that the Act is passed in the on-going session of the Parliament.
The National Coalition for Strengthening PoA Act welcomes the passing of the Act in the Lok Sabha in the 125th Birth Anniversary Year of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar.
The Dalits and Adivasis communities have long suffered from inhuman atrocities like murders and mass-murders, social boycott and economic boycott, mass arsons, rapes, etc in different parts of our country, on a daily basis. Much of the violence and atrocities suffered by the members of these communities is as a result of continuance of age-old practices of subjugation and privilege different groups experience in a society based on caste differences.
Constitution of India guarantees to all its citizens right to equality irrespective of caste, class, gender, ethnicity, creed, race, language and religion. The Constitutional mandates a number of provision that protect the interests and human rights of the SCs and STs. A Constitutional promise that has not been met. A promise that needs to be respected by the ruling Government and Opposition parties through their actions and a political will to achieve this end.
The SC & ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, came into being in 1989, following the Mathura Rape case. The Act sought to address different atrocities faced by the communities. The Act was enacted to address the atrocities faced by the communities and put in place mechanisms to address them. The Amendment Bill strengthens the existing Act.
Therefore the SCs and STs today wholeheartedly appreciate the political parties’ action in the passage of The SCs and STs (PoA) Amendment Bill 2014 in the Lok Sabha and await for the Rajya Sabha for the same.
Congratulations to all the NCSPA Coalition members for their tireless efforts initiated years back in 2009. A special acknowledgement of the efforts of Dr. SDJM Prasad the former National Convener of NCSPA and Shri PS Krishnan, IAS (Rtd) Former Secretary to the Govt. of India and the Chief Advisor NCSPA; a well-deserved heartfelt gratitude to Mr. Paul Diwakar Chairman ADRF and Gen. Secretary DAAA-NCDHR, Dr. VA Rameshnathan National Convener, NCSPA and all the members of Drafting Committee. We can shout with dignity and assertion, “EDUCATE, UNITE & STRUGGLE”
Importance of the SCs and STs (PoA) Amendment Bill, 2014
The Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 16, 2014. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment on September 16, 2014. The Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment (Chairperson: Mr. Ramesh Bais) submitted its report on December 19, 2014 before the Lok Sabha.
The Bill seeks to amend the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It provides for several modifications including:
- new categories of offences (such as, garlanding Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes with footwear and preventing them from using common property resources);
- setting up of exclusive special courts for trial of offences under the Act;
- duties of public servants under the Act ; and
- rights of victims and witnesses.
The Committee endorsed amending the Act, but recommended certain modifications to the Bill.
New offences were also added that the following acts may be made punishable offences:
- registration of false cases under the Act,
- acquiring false Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe certificates and claiming reservation benefits in jobs, admissions, etc., and
- entering into an inter-caste marriage to procure the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe status so as to acquire land or fight elections.
The committee noted that false and malicious complaints filed under the Act, were insufficiently addressed by the Indian Penal Code, 1860 are insufficient, and a provision addressing this problem should be included within the Act.
Special Courts for women: Cases of atrocities against women belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe should be dealt with in special courts for women with women judges and women public prosecutors preferably belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe community. The Committee strongly recommended that the Bill provide for special courts for women.
*National Convener, **IAS (Retd) and Chief Advisor, National Coalition for Strengthening the POA Act and its Implementation