TO help strengthen the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (or PoA Act), the National Advisory Council (NAC) has included several long-standing recommendations to amend the Act in its new policy paper released in mid-February. The proposed amendments are now subject to public discussions. Among the recommendations are the setting up of special courts and exclusive public prosecutors for speedy trials, inclusion of offences such as tonsuring, garlanding with chappals, and social and economic boycott as also the inclusion of a chapter on the rights of victims and witnesses. The NAC has also recommended enhancing compensation commensurate with inflation and expanding the scope of presumption in the crimes.
Considering the varied nature of crimes against the S.Cs and the S.Ts in the last decade and a poor conviction rate, the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR), a coalition of Dalit civil rights group, felt that apart from canvassing aggressively for the better implementation of the Act, it was necessary to point out gaps in the Act.
Sirivella Prasad, general secretary of the NCDHR, said: “The emerging trend shows that there is an increase in the quantum of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis even after the existence of the PoA Act. During the last 15 years (1995 to 2010), a total of 5,58,103 cases of atrocities (4,71,717 against the S.Cs and 86,386 against the S.Ts) were registered in police stations. A rough estimate reveals that around 1.5 crore Dalits and Adivasis were affected by the atrocities in the last 15 years and that the number is increasing at the annual rate of 2.9 per cent. Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat cumulatively account for 93.3 per cent of atrocities against the S.Cs.”
He said discriminatory practices against Dalits and Adivasis did not figure in the list of atrocities. “I am glad that the NAC has put such offences up for further public discussion,” he said. He added that some of their recommendations, which would have been important deterrents, were not included by the NAC. “The elements of negligence by government officials, which are not mentioned in the Act now, need to be clearly defined. How do we ensure that a police official registers the case under the PoA and not under ordinary criminal laws?"
Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta