SC declines staying SC/ST Act verdict, even as Dalits are targetted in Rajasthan
A day after the nation erupted in anger protesting the “dilution” of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to stay its verdict but agreed consider in detail the Narendra Modi government’s review petition. Meanwhile in Rajasthan's Hindaun, a mob set fire to a Dalit settlement on Tuesday morning. They also set ablaze the houses of BJP MLA Rajkumari Jatav and former Congress MLA Bharosi Lal Jatav, both Dalits.
Violence during the Monday’s nationwide shutdown left at least eight people dead and scores injured. The “Bharat Bandh” called by various Dalit organisations and endorsed by several Opposition parties, was in protest against the Apex Court’s March 20 verdict that has taken away stringent provisions of the law aimed at punishing and preventing atrocities against SCs and STs.
A Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit, while examining the need for procedural safeguards to prevent the abuse of the SC/ST Act, on 20 March had issued directions in effect diluting the provisions related to immediate arrest for offences under the Act.
In its verdict, the bench acknowledged instances of “abuse of the Act by vested interests” and removed the mandate of immediate arrest and made “preliminary inquiry” and “sanction by the competent authority” prerequisites for arresting an accused. It also removed the bar on an accused taking recourse to anticipatory bail.
Amid the seething anger and protests, the Modi government in its bid to pacify agitated Dalit activists, filed a review petition contending that the verdict has wide ramifications and will adversely affect the SCs/STs.
Besides questioning the verdict on legal issues, the Centre also sought restoring of the stringent provisions citing rise in instances of atrocities against Dalits that lead to the government amend the law in 2016 and introduce new set of offences.
Representing the government, Attorney General KK Venugopal argued that court proceeded on the basis of the Act being abused and misused and which cannot be grounds for diluting the Act.
He argued that if the principle of alleged potential for misuse is extended to offences under other laws, criminal law would be rendered toothless.
Hearing the review, the court clarified that it will consider only the legal points raised in the petition and not go by the ongoing protests by SCs and STs across the country.
“We are not against SCs and STs. Our directions are not diluting any provision of the Act. We are only for the protection of liberty of innocent persons,” the court said while refusing to stay its verdict.
Directing the parties to file their written submissions, the court adjourned the matter 10 days.
Already facing flak over its delayed response to the verdict, the miseries of the Modi government have now increased with the Congress accusing Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad of “lying”.
Informing about the move to file the review petition in the Supreme Court, Prasad claimed that the Central government was not party to the case.
The central govt was not a party in the case on SC/ST Protection Act & it does not agree with the reasoning given by SC in the judgement. The govt has therefore filed a comprehensive review petition. Modi govt & BJP is fully committed to the welfare of SC/STs : Shri @rsprasad pic.twitter.com/TfLQeBwsUu— BJP (@BJP4India) April 2, 2018
What Prasad failed to mention is that the Centre even if not a party to the petition, was served a notice by the court and represented by was Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh.
The Court on 20 November directed issuing notice to Attorney General of India as the issue involved interpretation of a central statute.
Singh, in his submission cited several apex court decision to contend that “there is no occasion to go into the issue of validity of provisions of the Atrocities Act.
His submissions have been recorded by the court in the verdict.
Accusing Prasad of misleading the public, the Congress demanded apology from the minister.
“The law minister said the Centre was not a party to the petition, it is factually incorrect. It is a matter of concern that the law minister is ignorant about the developments in the case,” Congress leader Anand Sharma said referring to the court documents on Maninder Singh’s appearance and submissions before the court.
Demanding Prasad to withdraw his assertions and aplogise, Sharma also questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the issue.
“Prime Minister Modi and his government have mastered the art of double speak, they have double standards on this issue like many other issues. Why Modi, who speaks on every subject, even on subjects which people don’t want to hear, is silent,” said Sharma.
AICC Press Briefing by Former Union Minister & RS MP @AnandSharmaINC and Communications In-charge @rssurjewala in Parliament House on Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's statement on the SC/ST Act. https://t.co/LLAp3M5v3v— Congress (@INCIndia) April 3, 2018
Amid the BJP’s bid to affirm its commitment towards Dalit welfare, party chief Amit Shah insisted the Centre was proactive in its approach right from the day of judgment.
Right from the day the Honourable Supreme Court gave a judgment on SC/ST Atrocities Act, Central Government acted in an immediate and informed manner. An effective review petition has been filed that will protect rights of Dalits.— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) April 3, 2018
Contrary to Shah’s assertions, the Centre filed the review after nearly two weeks post the verdict. Moreover, the move came on the face of not just nationwide outrage and protest by the Opposition but also rising discontent from within the BJP and allies.
Besides writing to the law minister, a host SC/ST MPs held talks with Modi and Shah pressing for a review petition. BJP MP Savitri Bai Phule also held a protest rally in Lucknow demanding the Centre to challenge the verdict.