SC/ST Act: Supreme Court 'Dilutes', Govt Restores Provisions; All In 5 Months
The amendments made in SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as per the Supreme Court order on 20th March witnessed a national uproar from Dalit and Adivasi outfits who called for a ‘Bharat Bandh’ as a sign of protest.
In the backdrop of these incidents, on Wednesday, the Union Cabinet ruled to clear these amendments with an aim to “nullify” its repercussions. By safeguarding the public servants against arrests and undoing the ban on anticipatory bail for the accused, the SC order was said to dilute the basic provision which is ‘to prevent the atrocities against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.’
SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities ordinance should be brought soon: Congress's Mallikarjun Kharge in Lok Sabha. Union Minister Rajnath Singh responds, "The govt has already approved the bill yesterday. We want to pass it in this session of parliament." pic.twitter.com/HNky949C94
— ANI (@ANI) August 2, 2018
However, the recent amendment to the bill overturns the SC order restoring the original provision of the law, facilitating the arrest of the accused if the investigating officer deems fit. The bill states, “This decision to arrest or not to arrest cannot be taken away from the investigating officer”.
The SC order on 20th march stems from the “misinterpretation of FIR” filed by Bhaskar Gaikwad, back in 2007. The bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit took the call of laying down more stringent laws to prevent “abuse” of the provision in the name of political and personal interests, by including scope for both, “preliminary inquiry” and anticipatory bail of the accused. This ended up enraging the Dalits who felt it was a dilution of the special law meant for their safety. The immediate appointment of Justice Goel to the NGT raised concerns and was hinted to be a reward for his “previous work” by several Dalit MPs of the NDA.
Reportedly, government sources claim that amendment has been approved. “The Government and Parliament have full power to undo any Supreme Court justice. On that basis, we are undoing the wrong,” sources claim as reported by Indian Express
On a micro level, the March order was touted to be a political setback for BJP, opening doors for the speculations of ‘Anti-Dalit’ image of the party. The amendment is being seen as a considerate action in favour of the Dalits. “This is a historic decision to restore the status as it was prior to the Supreme Court order of March 20, 2018. We thank the Narendra Modi government for this. The amendment bill will be brought during the current session of Parliament and we are confident it will be passed,” said Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan after the Cabinet meeting, as reported by Times Of India.
Although the necessary action has been taken to retain the original provision in place, the anger of the Dalits does not seem to calm down since the groups have refused to call off the ‘Bandh’ which is set to take place on 9th of August.
All of this boils down to the question of striking a balance. The government ought to find a middle ground wherein any abuse of power does not take place while ensuring that it does not invalidate the very bedrock of the entire act, in any case.