A bill to overturn a Supreme Court order concerning certain safeguards against arrest under the SC/ST law was unanimously passed by the Lok Sabha on Monday.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill 2018 rules out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, not withstanding any court order.
It also provides that no preliminary enquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval. Replying to the debate on the bill, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot asserted that the NDA government favoured reservation "and will continue to be in favour reservation for SC/ST".
The amendment, he said, will strengthen the legislative provisions to protect SC/ST. The move to amend the Bill is being seen by the Opposition as a reach-out by the BJP-led NDA government to Dalits, ahead of their proposed nationwide protest later this month to demand restoration of the provisions of the law which, the Dalit groups allege, were diluted by a Supreme Court ruling of March 20.
These groups have been asking the government to overturn a Supreme Court ruling of March 20, saying it had "diluted" and rendered "toothless" the law against atrocities faced by the weakest sections of the society by putting additional safeguards against arrest of the accused.
Gehlot said after the Supreme Court put some restrictions on Article 18 of this Act, the law lost its importance.
"The review petition filed by the government is still pending. Due to delay in the Supreme Court and rising anger among the Dalit community, there was a need to amend Article 18," the Minister said.
He accepted that 6-7 per cent cases under the Indian Penal Code and 10-12 per cent cases under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act were misused.
"But citing the misuse of the Act, we can't allow 88 per cent of Dalits to suffer," Gehlot asserted. Participating in the debate, leader of Congress in the House Mallikarjun Kharge said the government should havebrought this bill as an Ordinacce much earlier. "In recent times, the government has brought as many six Ordinances, they could have brought the 7th Ordinance as well.
If there was no public pressure, then the government would not have brought this bill," Kharge insisted. The Congress leader urged the government to include the SC/ST Act in the ninth schedule of the Constitution so that it goes out of the jurisdiction of the courts. Kharge also urged the government to withdraw cases against those people who had protested against Supreme Court judgement on April 20.
Citing National Crime Record Bureau data, he said in the last four years, there was a 40 per cent increase in atrocities against Dalits. "Every minute a dalit suffersatrocities. In every week, 11 dalit gets killed, but unfortunately the conviction rate is too low," he said.
Taking a jibe at the government, Kharge said, "There are 24 lakh vacancies in government jobs. So it should first fill all vacant posts." He also alleged that people associated with the BJP were involved in lynching incidents against Dalits and Muslims.
P Ravindra Babu (TDP) said the government was not sincere about the concerns of Dalits, else it should have promulgated an ordinance to restore the provisions of the Act following the Supreme Court judgement.
Questioning its intent, he said the government hadpromulgated six ordinances but "waited" for the MonsoonSession to bring the amendment. Besides, he said, the government rewarded the judge bymaking him chairperson of an important Tribunal.
Balka Suman (TRS) said if this government had anysympathy for the dalits, the legislation should be includedin the 9th Schedule of the Constitution. He also demanded thereservation in the higher judiciary. Jitendra Choudhary (CPI-M) also pressed for inclusion ofthis legislation in the 9th Schedule, while Upendra Kushwaha(RLSP) said the legislation has once again proved supremacy ofParliament.
He too sought reservation in higher judiciary andremoval of 50 per cent cap on the reservation. Tariq Anwar (NCP) also supported the amendment. Demanding setting up of All India Judicial Services,several members stressed the need for to providing space forSC/ST and dalit community in the country's judiciary.
Chirag Paswan (LJSP) said that Indian judicial serviceswas need of the hour and the govermment should take itseriously. "There is a need to appoint judges based oncompetition," he said adding the government should put thislaw in the ninth schedule of the Constitution.
Union Minister Anupriya Patel too said thatrepresentation of SC/ST and backward community was very low injudiciary and "till the time we would address this issue, suchjudgements would haunt us".
She also urged the government to set up All IndiaJudicial Services, observing that "we were not able to providea level playing field and respect to this community".
She alsosaid that atrocities against this community has increased overthe years. H S Khalsa (AAP) said "we did not provide a system wherethere could be a meritocracy in judiciary", while Bhagirath Prasad (BJP) demanded setting up of judicial service. Supporting the bill, J P N Yadav (RJD) said that thegovernment brought this bill because of public pressure.
He also demanded caste based census. "This government is not forMake in India, but they are Back in India," he added.
Asaduddin Owaisi (AIMIM) this was the "Shahbanomoment" and sought to know if the government would call itappeasement of dalits. He also demanded that Muslims beincluded in the SC/SC Act.
K Suresh (Cong) said the NDA government has rewarded oneof the two Supreme Court judges who delivered thecontroversial judgement in the matter.
Among others who participated in the discussion include ET Mohammed Basheer (IUML), Rattan Lal Kataria (BJP),Kaushlendra Kumar (JD-U), Virender Kashyap (BJP), DushyantChautala (INLD), Kirit Solanki (BJP), P S Chandumajra (SAD)