SC/ST act row: Rajnath, Yogi appeal for peace, Congress blames Centre for violence
Home minister Rajnath Singh on Monday said the Centre has filed a review petition in the Supreme Court against “dilution” of the SC/ST Act, as he appealed the political parties to ensure that no communal violence takes place in the country in the backdrop of widespread protests over the issue.
He also dismissed the allegations as “baseless” that the NDA government was against the upliftment of the backward community. “It is the moral responsibility of the political parties to ensure that no caste or communal violence takes place anywhere,” Singh told reporters in New Delhi.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 “diluted” the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, ruling that the government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens, too, be arrested only after an inquiry under the law.
Speaking to reporters outside parliament, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad noted, “The Centre was not a party in the proceedings at all. And therefore, on behalf of the Ministry of Social Justice, a very comprehensive review has been filed (against the dilution of the SC/ST Act).
“And the Government of India with great respect does not agree with the reasoning given by the Supreme Court in the matter,” he said.
The Congress held the Centre responsible for the loss of life and damage to properties during the day-long protests. It alleged that the Narendra Modi dispensation is not interested in the welfare of Dalits and weaker sections.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi said he saluted the “brothers and sisters” from the community who hit the streets to demand protection of their rights from the government.
Senior Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mallikarjun Kharge also alleged that atrocities on Dalits and minorities have been on the rise ever since the NDA came to power in 2014.
Azad, leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said that had the government taken adequate steps to ensure that the SC/ST Act was not weakened or diluted, Monday’s nationwide bandh could have been avoided.
“I charge the central government, and not the Supreme Court, that this law was weakened and diluted because the central government did not represent the case properly before the court,” Azad said.
“The central government is responsible for this loss in the country. If the government had taken steps after March 20 when we gave them a memorandum to file a review petition, there would have been no loss of life and property in the country. I hold the central government responsible for the loss of life and property,” Azad said.
Kharge, leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha, said the law had an impact on 23 per cent of the Indian population and alleged that “the government took this case lightly”.
He demanded that either an amendment be made in the Act immediately or a curative petition be made before the full bench of the Supreme Court.
Prominent Dalit leader and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, however, hit out at Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, saying he had no moral right to attack the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over Dalit issues as his party did “nothing” for the community or its icon BR Ambedkar while the present government, he asserted, had done a lot.
Chief of the Lok Janshakti Party, Paswan said the Congress even denied Ambedkar’s portrait a space in the Parliament’s central hall. “A portrait was put up only in 1989 when VP Singh was prime minister and while the Congress gave Bharat Ratna to many people, including actors, it did not deem it fit to give to Ambedkar,” he said.
Ambedkar was given Bharat Ratna in 1990.
“Rahul Gandhi has no moral right to speak about the issues of Dalits. He should first answer why his party did this to Ambedkar... The Congress only abused him and encouraged others to abuse him,” he alleged.
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief Mayawati demanded stern action against all those involved in inciting mobs for violence.
In a statement, the four-time UP chief minister said this was a ploy to defame the BSP by alleging that they were behind the violence that erupted in many parts of Uttar Pradesh, primarily in western districts.
“I demand that the government take stringent action again who ever is behind this violence that has singed many parts of western UP,” she demanded. “It is indeed very painful that some people have lost their lives in other parts of the country and I condemn these acts of violence.”
Mayawati also said that it appeared certain that some anti-social elements jumped into the otherwise calm and peaceful protests and created ruckus. The BSP chief reiterated that her party as very much against the amendments ordered by the Supreme Court in the SC/ST Act and added that she would take up the matter at every stage she can.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said the “fundamental intent” of the SCs/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act should be preserved and extended his Aam Aadmi Party’s support to the protesting Dalit groups.
He tweeted, “Under the situation resulting due to Supreme Court’s decision on SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, AAP is with the movement of SC/ST community. Central government should deploy top lawyers for the petition in the Supreme Court and the need and fundamental intent of the Act should be preserved.”
Monday’s Bharat bandh saw massive violence in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Punjab, Gujarat and other states. While some states ordered closure of educational institutions and curtailed communication and transport services, including rail, incidents of arson and vandalism were reported from different parts of North India.
At least seven deaths were reported due to the protests — five in Madhya Pradesh, and one each in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Curfew was imposed in Morena and Gwalior of Madhya Pradesh.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath appealed for peace and urged the people not to vitiate law order, as violence was reported from many districts including Azamgarh where protesters torched two state-run buses, injuring several passengers.Protests turned violent in Agra, Hapur, Meerut in western UP.
(with inputs from IANS)