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Standing Committee Report on SC/ST (PoA) Amendment Bill 2014 provides succor to Dalits/Adivasis

by admin last modified 2015-03-05 13:36

A report handed down in December 2014 by the Standing Committee on Social Justice And Empowerment (2014 -15) on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 to both houses of parliament is seen as significant for SCs/STs with the committee finding a majority of the proposed amendments necessary.

New Delhi, 3 March 2015:  The Committee considered and adopted the Draft Report on "The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014" at their sitting held on 19 December 2014.

While supporting the overall intent of the Standing Committee report, the National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (NCSPA) urges the Modi Government to urgently pass the Amendment Bill in the ensuing session of parliament.  With the amendments having been examined from the broad perspective of the many stakeholders who participated in the Committees study, it is high time the Government legislates the Act. The legislation is long overdue to the millions of SCs/STs facing persistent discrimination and serious crimes in the country, said Dr VA Ramesh Nathan, Convener, NCSPA. 

Former secretary to the Government of India and Adviser, NCSPA, PS Krishnan added, "Prime Minister Narendra Modi should keep his pre election promises to the SC/ST communities and enact the legislation at the earliest."

Here are some of the proposed amendments for which the committee has given its nod:

The committee strongly feels that the amendment on the role of courts is necessary as it specifies the roles and powers of courts to exclusively try offences falling under the PoA Act with the specific objective of speedy and expeditious disposal of cases. So far under the Scheduled Castes And The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act 1989, a session court 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 replaces this provision and instead specifies that an Exclusive Special Court must be established at the district level to try offences under the Bill, and cases are disposed off within two months.  Appeals of these courts shall lie with the high court, and must be disposed off within three months.  A Public Prosecutor and an Exclusive Public Prosecutor shall be appointed for every Special Court and Exclusive Special Court respectively. 

As regards to new offences added under the Bill, the committee are of the firm view that the amendment to include new offences in the Bill will not only address the major problem of non-registration of cases but will also limit the scope of misinterpretation of the sections either by the general public or the enforcement agencies. New offences include: garlanding with footwear, compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or manual scavenging, abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public, attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs/STs or disrespecting any deceased person held in high esteem, and imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott;

The committee is in full agreement with the proposed amendment on  the 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 registering a complaint or FIR, reading out information given orally, before taking the signature of the informant and giving a copy of this information to the informant, etc.

Assaulting or sexual exploiting an SC or ST woman is an offence under the Act. Seriously concerned about rising crimes against SC/ST women, the committee is of the firm view that this vital issue can be addressed by setting up of special courts for women victims with women judges and women public prosecutors  preferably belonging to the SC/ST community.

Since many essential rights and entitlements are not available to victims and witnesses under the present Act, the Bill adds a chapter on the rights of victims and witness that says 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.

While acquiescing in the amendment, as it will not only provide protection and information to the victims and witnesses but also give them a chance to participate in proceedings through assistance from NGOs and social workers, the Committee concurred with the amendment proposed.

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