UPDATE ON SC/ST (POA) AMENDMENTS BILL, 2014
A Stepping Another Milestone Towards Strengthening Legislation
THE SCHEDULED CASTES AND THE SCHEDULED TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) AMENDMENT BILL, 2014
Earmarking the 125th Birth anniversary of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, it is a historical day that amid the din of the discordant notes inside and outside Parliament, the SCs & STs (PoA) Amendment Bill, 2014 was debated in the Lok Sabha and was passed with full majority on 4th August, 2015. May we therefore in celebration mood congratulate you all for journeying and struggling past 6 years unitedly. NCSPA welcomes this historical move by the Hon’ble Minister Shri Thaawar Chand Gehlot, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment as we waited with bated breath for the long-delayed Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014. It would be of great to mention the contribution of the former Ministers of Social Justice and Empowerment Shri Mukul Wasnik, Smt. Kumari Selja and National Advisory Committee members specially Smt. Sonia Gandhi and others for their unique work in bringing out the Amendments.
We also recall all the Members of the Parliament Mr. Rahul Gandhi, Mr. P.L.Punia, Mr. Porika Balram Naik, Mr. V. Kishore Chandra Deo, Mr. Brinda Karat, Mr. D.Raja, Mr.Prakash Karat, Mr. S. Sudhakar Reddy, Mr. Sitaram Yechury, Mr. Gobinda Chandra Naskar, Smt Krishna Tirath, Mr J.D. Seelam, Mr Ali Anwar Ansari, Mr Ram Vilas Paswan, Dr Ram Chandra Dome, Ms Meenakshi Natarajan, Mr Thirumaavalavan, Mr. Anandan, K. Murugesan, Mr. Kamal Kishor, Mr. Arjun Ram Meghwal, Mr. PradeepTamta, Mr. Ashok Tanwar, Dr. Sivaprasad, Naramalli, Mr. Chinta Mohan and Mr. Praveen Rashtrapal, who challenging us guided through our interventions and researches.
Never to forget but to express our gratitude and respect for expert supports extended to us in formulating the Draft Amendment Mr. K. Raju, SC Cell , Indian National Congress , Former Joint Secretary, National Advisory Council; Ms. Farah Naqvi, Activist and Writer; Mr. Mohan Gopal, Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi; Mr. P.S. Krishnan, Retired Secretary, Government of India and Prof. S.K. Thorat, Chairperson, Indian Council for Social Science Research with their expertise suggestions and guidance.
Moreover, the institutions such as Dr. K. R. Narayanan Centre for Dalit & Minority Studies, New Delhi, Haryana Institute of Rural Development, Nilokheri, Haryana, Mumbai University – Law Department, Mumbai, Maharastra, National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, Madhaya Pradesh, Dr. Ambedkar Research & Training Institute, Pune, Maharastra, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy, Baba Saheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, Police Academy, Orissa, National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, National Law School, Bangalore, Karnataka and Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, New Delhi have given us the space to move forward along with our struggles in past years.
Moving the motion for consideration of the Bill the hon’ble Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Shri Thaawar Chand Gehlot very well stated the need of amendments in the SCs & STs (PoA) Act, 1989 to strengthen the preventive measures. Summing the Bill he briefed the Parliamentarians that this Bill was also referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee and the Committee submitted its report after due deliberations. Some new definitions have been included in this Bill. The rules relating to appeal have been also amended and efforts have been made to strengthen the rights of the victims and witnesses besides strengthening preventive measures. He continued to state that once this Bill becomes an Act it would be in the interest of the country and it will also be effective to put an end to the atmosphere of untouchability which we often come across. Today our country needs harmony and to ensure the harmony we need legal provisions and also an atmosphere of coordination. With these objectives in view this Bill has been introduced.
Hon’ble Member Parliamentarian, SHRI VIRENDER KASHYAP, to quoted and appreciated here as he said that this Bill is meant for the 25 percent of the population who have been oppressed for thousands of years back. The incidents of atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by anti-social elements are on the rise. Therefore this Bill has been brought in with amendments today. In the year 2011, 29401, 2012, 39512 and in 2013, 46114 incidents of atrocities committed against Dalits. There is a constant increase in such sorts of incidents. The rate of conviction is decreasing. The incidents of gang rape with Dalit women are increasing day by day. This Bill will help in removing the procedural hurdles. With the passage of this Bill, the incidents of atrocities against Dalits in the society will come down and a long awaited demand of Dalit community will be fulfilled and the perpetrators of atrocities will be punished and victims will get justice.
Sufficing the amendment Bill DR. K. GOPAL quoted the Article 17 of the Constitution outlaws the practice of ‘untouchability’. However, SCs and STs continue to face untouchability as well as social, economic and institutional deprivations. People belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes face persistent various types of discrimination and serious crimes the Bill amends certain existing categories and adds new categories of actions to be treated as offences. Wrongfully occupying land belonging to SCs or STs is an offence under the Act which wasn’t there in the 1989 Act. Along with the honorable Shri Virender Kashyap and Dr. K. Gopal, 12 honorable MPs have appreciated the Amendment Bill and nodded to pass this bill.
Welcoming this historical move the National Coalition is thankful to the Government and particularly the Ministers for Social Justice and for Parliamentary Affairs for bringing the bill to this stage.
Congratulations to all the NCSPA Coalition members for their tireless efforts initiated the years back in 2009. A special kudos to 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. Without recognizing the great works and naming of key people keeps this achievement of ours remain unfinished. We remember the intensive supports provided by core group members Mr. Ossie Fernandez, Mr. Jai Singh, Mr. Anand Bolimera, Mr. Nandagopal, Mr. P.S. Krishnan, Advocate Virinda Grover, Dr. S.D.J.M Prasad, Dr. V.A. Ramesh Nathan, Mr. Narendra Kumar, Prof. Krishna Deo Rao, Mr. N. Paul Divakar, Adv. P.L. Mimroth, Ms. Ruth Manorama, Mr. Henry Tiphagne, Mr. Babloo Loitongbam and Mr. Vinay Kumar in drafting and designing the present Amendment Bill. The struggles of past 6 years NCSPA together with all the Coalition Members, without their efforts this would not have been possible is flashed back today and reminded us all to shout with dignity and assertion,“EDUCATE, UNITE & STRUGGLE”
Further, the National Coalition of about 500 Dalit and Adivasi organizations from all over the country look forward, on behalf of, more than 30 crores of Dalits and Adivasis of the country, to the NDA Government to move the Bill in the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing and thus get the Act passed in this session itself.
Key Features of the SCs & STs (PoA) Amendment Bill, 2014 (Passed in the Lok Sabha)
- The Bill replaces the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014.
- The Bill prohibits the commission of offences against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs) and establishes special courts for the trial of such offences and the rehabilitation of victims.
Actions to be treated as offences: The Act outlines actions (by non SCs and STs) against SCs or STs to be treated as offences. The Bill amends certain existing categories and adds new categories of actions to be treated as offences.
- Forcing an SC or ST individual to vote or not vote for a particular candidate in a manner that is against the law is an offence under the Act. The Bill adds that impeding certain activities related to voting will also be considered an offence. Wrongfully occupying land belonging to SCs or STs is an offence under the Act. The Bill defines ‘wrongful’ in this context, which was not done under the Act.
- Assaulting or sexual exploiting an SC or ST woman is an offence under the Act. The Bill adds that:
(a) intentionally touching an SC or ST woman in a sexual manner without her consent, or
(b) using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature, or
(c) dedicating an SC or ST women as a devadasi to a temple, or any similar practice will also be considered an offence. Consent is defined as a voluntary agreement through verbal or non-verbal communication.
- New offences added under the Bill include:
(a) garlanding with footwear,
(b) compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or do manual scavenging,
(c) abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public,
(d) attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs or STs or disrespecting any deceased person held in high esteem, and
(e) imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott.
- Preventing SCs or STs from undertaking the following activities will be considered an offence:
(a) using common property resources,
(b) entering any place of worship that is open to the public, and
(c) entering an education or health institution.
- The court shall presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim if the accused had personal knowledge of the victim or his family, unless the contrary is proved.
Role of public servants: The Act specifies that a non-SC or ST public servant who neglects his duties relating to SCs or STs shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of six months to one year. The Bill specifies these duties, including:
(a) registering a complaint or FIR,
(b) reading out information given orally, before taking the signature of the informant and giving a copy of this information to the informant, etc.
Role of courts: Under the Act, a Court of Session at the district level is deemed a Special Court to provide speedy trials for offences. A Special Public Prosecutor is appointed to conduct cases in this court.
- The Bill substitutes this provision and specifies that an Exclusive Special Court must be established at the district level to try offences under the Bill. In districts with fewer cases, a Special Court may be established to try offences. An adequate number of courts must be established to ensure that cases are disposed of within two months. Appeals of these courts shall lie with the high court, and must be disposed of within three months. A Public Prosecutor and Exclusive Public Prosecutor shall be appointed for every Special Court and Exclusive Special Court respectively.
- The courts established under the Bill may take measures such as:
- a) concealing the names of witnesses,
- b) taking immediate action in respect of any complaint relating to harassment of a victim, informant or witness, etc. Any such complaint shall be tried separately from the main case and be concluded within two months.
Rights of victims and witnesses: The Bill adds a chapter on the rights of victims and witness. It shall be the duty of the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents and witnesses. The state government shall specify a scheme to ensure the implementation of rights of victims and witnesses.
It’s again a call to all of us that together again we travel towards another step to Justice.
Hope to JOURNEY TOGETHER AGAIN for achieving the greater GOAL……..