Moving to placate angry Dalit and Adivasi outfits which have called a Bharat bandh on August 9 over the alleged dilution of the SC/ST law, the Union Cabinet Wednesday approved an amendment to The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act which, official sources said, would “nullify” the March 20 Supreme Court order and “remove any room for interpretation” by the courts.
No formal announcement on the amendment was made by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who cited the ongoing session of Parliament. He merely said: “The Narendra Modi government cares about the development of our Dalit and Adivasi brothers and will strive in that direction. We have done that before, and will do so going ahead.”
Government sources said the amendment has been approved. “The government and Parliament have full power to undo any Supreme Court judgment. On that basis, we are undoing the wrong,” sources said. This is contrary to the earlier stand of the government that it will wait for the decision on the review petition in the Supreme Court and then decide a course of action.
Sources said the SC/ST Act would be amended “so as to remove any possibility of interpretation by a court of law”.
“For instance, the matter of whether an accused in the SC/ ST Act is allowed anticipatory bail has been open to various interpretations by courts. To prevent that in future, we have suggested an amendment stating clearly it is not permitted,” sources said.
On March 20, the bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit laid down stringent safeguards, including provisions for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary enquiry” before registration of a case under the SC/ST Act. The judges noted that there had been “instances of abuse” of the Act by “vested interests” for political or personal reasons.
This ruling angered the Dalits who felt it was a dilution of the special law meant for their safety. On July 6, Justice Goel retired from the Supreme Court and was appointed NGT chairman that very day by the government.
On July 23, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said several Dalit MPs of the NDA had “expressed concern” over the “wrong message” sent by the appointment of Justice Goel to the NGT, saying he was “the judge who ruled against” the SC/ST Act. Paswan later wrote to Union Home Rajnath Singh.
His son and Lok Sabha member Chirag Paswan wrote to the Prime Minister, seeking removal of Justice Goel from the post.
In his letter, Paswan said the All India Ambedkar Mahasabha (AIAM), a Dalit rights coalition, had also asked the government to bring in a Bill in the ongoing session of Parliament to safeguard the SC/ST Act, and “take immediate action in the interest of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Classes”.