Crucial SC/ST Amendment Bill passed with unanimity

Raj Kamal Rao

Rajya-Sabha-top-shot-aug-11The Rajya Sabha on Monday passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015 aiming at protecting the interests of the socially weaker section against any form of discrimination by the individuals as well as by the civil servants. This is the first legislation passed by Rajya Sabha in the current Winter session of the Parliament.

The bill was passed by the voice vote with both Opposition and the Treasury striking unanimity over the legislation. It was initially moved by Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Thaawar Chand Gehlot on December 14, 2015 after getting through the Lok Sabha.

Earlier, backing the bill, Congress party assured the Upper House that they will extend their support in passing the bill in the present session of parliament. The principal opposition party had even asked its senior MP Hussain Dalwai from moving amendments.

The Congress-led UPA government had brought in an ordinance in 2014 to bring in changes in the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. Later, the incumbent Modi government introduced the bill in Lok Sabha and passed it.

The bill as passed protects the members of Scheduled Cast and Scheduled Tribes from deliberate discrimination by individuals and public servants. It has been a long standing demand of representatives of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes to give legal recourse to fight against atrocities.

Further, the bill provides for the provision of imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years for anyone held responsible for ill-treatment of the weaker section. The Bill also has provisions to protect the rights of victims and witness.

Any public servant who neglects the duty or refuses to register a complaint or FIR will be imprisoned for a period of 6 months which may extend to one year. According to the amendments it will be the duty of the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents and witnesses. The state governments will have to specify appropriate scheme to provide immediate relief in cash or in kind to atrocity victims or their dependents.

Forcing to vote or not vote for a particular candidate, garlanding with footwear, forcing into manual scavenging, preventing entry into education/health, preventing entry into place of worship have been categorised as an “offence” in the legislation.

The government will not set up Exclusive Special Courts (ESC) at the district level to ensure that cases are disposed of within two months. The courts established under the bill will presume the accused as guilty unless the contrary is proved on cases relating to atrocities against SC’s and ST’s.

(With inputs from the PTI)