By YKA Staff:
The amendment to The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was first promulgated as an ordinance on March 4, 2014. Surprisingly, it was introduced in the Lok Sabha on July 16 2014, just two days before the ordinance was to lapse. It was then sent to the Standing Committee on Social Justice and Empowerment in September, which submitted its recommendations by December. After great delay, it was finally passed by the Lok Sabha in August this year. Although included in the list of business of the Rajya Sabha for the winter session, it has not yet been moved in the Upper House of the parliament.
The National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, which is a coalition “of about 500 Dalit and Adivasi organizations from all over the country,” is now appealing “on behalf of more than 30 crores of Dalits and Adivasis of the country to the BJP-led NDA Government to move the Bill at the earliest in the week commencing from 14th December in the Rajya Sabha for consideration and passing in this session.”
In a press note, they have also urged “the Congress, the left Parties and all other respected national and regional parties to actively cooperate and help in getting this legislation passed in Rajya Sabha, irrespective of their other differences.” The appeal extends to the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, who have been asked to “help and ensure this (consideration and passage of the Bill),” and to the media, who have been asked “to take seriously this issue” and to “continuously highlight this.” The note also says that it is the passage of the Bill that “will be a proper and concrete way of showing respect to Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar in his 125th Birth Anniversary Year – a respect which all Parties profess and symbolically celebrate.”
The Amendment Bill is significantly important as it introduces aspects of caste atrocities that were not present in the existing Act and strengthens other clauses of the Act. For instance, garlanding with footwear, abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public, social or economic boycott (definitions provided in the Bill), entering an education or health institution or any place of worship, using common property resources, etc will be tried as caste atrocities in addition to other laws and the Indian Penal Code.
Since manual scavenging too is included as an offence under the Bill, it will be possible to try cases relating to it in Exclusive Special Courts, which are a replacement in the Bill for Special Courts mandated by the 1989 Act. The Bill also strengthens the Act’s provision for punishing sexual harassment of SC/ST women by making intentional touching or using “words, acts, or gestures of a sexual nature” also punishable. Similarly, the somewhat vague provisions for trying public servants for failing in their duty towards SCs and STs have been made specific. A whole new chapter dedicated to the rights of victims and witnesses of caste atrocities is another major highlight of the bill.
However, whether the enactment of the Bill, for which the Coalition and the SCs and STs have been waiting for “with bated breath,” happens in this session remains to be seen, as the parliament has been in a logjam since the National Herald case.