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Two Union ministers demand review of SC banning automatic arrests under SC/ST act

As the demand for a review built up, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) indicated it was open to seeking a review, with party president Amit Shah likely to meet ministers concerned with the issue on Friday.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2018 23:25 IST
SC/ST Act,Supreme Court,Automatic arrests under SC/ST Act
The Supreme Court on Tuesday took note of the rampant misuse of the stringent Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against government servants and held that there shall be no immediate arrest on any complaint filed under the law.(Sonu Mehta/HT File Photo)

The Centre must file a review petition against the Supreme Court’s recent judgment that banned automatic arrests and allowed anticipatory bail under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, two Union ministers from the Scheduled Castes demanded on Thursday. As the demand for a review built up, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) indicated it was open to seeking a review, with party president Amit Shah likely to meet ministers concerned with the issue on Friday.

Lok Janshakti Party president Ram Vilas Paswan and Republican Party of India chief Ramdas Athawale – both allies of the BJP-led NDA – said the top court judgment would have serious implications on the SC population and a review petition was needed to protect their rights.

Athawale said he and social justice minister Thawarchand Gehlot met BJP president Amit Shah and finance minister Arun Jaitley on Thursday and were assured that a review petition would be filed after studying the judgment. Gehlot is the BJP’s tallest SC leader in the Union council of ministers.

“Shah spoke to law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad and asked him to study the judgment and file a review petition,” Athawale said. Prasad said at a press conference that government was examining the matter and would give a structured response to it in the coming days.

“There could be some instances of fake complaints in matters involving transfers and posting, but 99% of the complaints are genuine,” said Athawale, the junior minister for social justice. He said crimes such as murder and rape of a Scheduled Caste person are far too serious an offence to allow concessions to the alleged perpetrators. More than 45,000 cases related to atrocities against SCs (also known as Dalits) and STs, are filed every year, but the conviction rate is lower than 30%, he said.

Paswan said SCs and STs across the country were “angry” over the judgment and that the government must step in. The veteran politician credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making the law more stringent in 2016, but alleged that several SC and ST MPs of the ruling alliance were upset with the verdict.

His parliamentarian son, Chirag Paswan, said: “The LJP has decided to file a review petition. We demand the centre, too, file a similar petition.” The act, Chirag said, was the only weapon in the hands of the two oppressed communities to prevent atrocities.

A senior BJP leader said the government and the party would decide what to do after a proper study of the judgment and its fallout, political and social. A group of the BJP’s Scheduled Caste MPs met Prasad earlier in the day seeking a review petition. Lok Sabha MP and BJP’s SC Morcha chief Vinod Kumar Sonkar said a group of SC MPs would meet Shah with a similar demand, and insisted that the government would ensure that no harm was done to the interests of the community.

The BJP has faced criticism over atrocities against Scheduled Castes in states such as Gujarat and Maharashtra.

A senior minister aware of the developments said the party high command has decided to examine the court’s judgment in detail before rushing in to make a political statement. But there were hints from senior leaders in the government and the party that they would not take a step seen as “anti Dalit”, and a decision on seeking a review was possible. A senior bureaucrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity added that this was the logical course of action for the government , since the issue has turned into a political hot potato.

While the Congress has asked for a review of the judgment, which it described as “unfortunate” and one that will led to a “sense of insecurity” among the oppressed classes, several BJP MPs have expressed concern over the ramifications of the order, particularly when the party is preparing for polls in as many as eight states and the general election.

Incidentally, in February, the ministry of social justice and empowerment, which is the nodal ministry for SC/ST welfare programmes asked 11 state governments to clear the backlog of cases of atrocities against Dalits and tribals to combat disenchantment among these communities.

States such as the BJP-ruled Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, apart from Odisha, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, which are on the list of 11, have been instructed to speed up the process of filing charge sheets and setting up special courts for the hearing these cases.

As per the data available with the government for the period between 2014 and 2016, Bihar has a pendency rate of 95%, Gujarat 92%, Maharashtra 86.3%, Rajasthan 87.2% and Karnataka 87.2%. Conviction rates are as low as 3.5% in Gujarat, 4.2% in Andhra Pradesh, 3.3% in Karnataka and 3.9% in Odisha as against the all India rate of 26.6%.

First Published: Mar 22, 2018 23:25 IST