NDA Dalit MPs slam Modi govt over Justice Goel's appointment as NGT chief
The Centre’s ruling BJP is facing flak over the appointment of Justice AK Goel as National Green Tribunal (NGT) chairman, which has not just caused severe heartburn among Dalits but also triggered discontent among NDA Dalit MPs, who are now demanding his removal.
Justice Goel, who retired from the Supreme Court earlier in the month, was part of the two-judge bench which laid down stringent safeguards to prevent the “abuse” of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, thereby diluting the law. The 20 March judgment by the bench of Justices Goel and UU Lalit led to a massive nationwide outrage among the Dalits who also observed a Bharat Bandh in protest.
The bench in the verdict 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.
Following his retirement from the apex court in July, Goel was named as the NGT chief drawing immediate protests from Dalits and Dalit rights activists who claimed the appointment was a “reward” by the Narendra Modi government for the anti-Dalit verdict.
Goel becoming the NGT chairman amounted to adding insult to the injury of Dalits, who were already anguished over the Supreme Court verdict and the Narendra Modi government’s delayed response in filing a review petition.
It’s not just common Dalits but even SC/ST legislators within the BJP-led NDA are peeved at the decision and are now demanding his removal.
Over two dozen SC/ST MPs from various NDA constituents and the BJP met Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) chief and Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Tuesday to discuss the issue. Among those to attend the meeting included Union ministers Arjun Ram Meghwal from the BJP and Ramdas Athawale from Republican Party of India (A). BJP MP Vinod Sonkar was also present.
“At the meeting there was consensus among all, that Goel’s appointment as the NGT chairman is not appropriate and is against the sentiments of Dalits. It was decided that Goel cannot be allowed to continue on the post. As such Paswan will be meeting both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ramnath Kovind seeking Goel’s removal,” said Sonkar who is also the chief of the BJP’s SC Morcha.
Following the meeting, Paswan admitted before the media that Goel’s appointment to the post sent a “wrong message”.
Another Dalit leader and BJP MP Udit Raj too expressed concern over the issue saying Goel’s appointment has saddened Dalits.
“Dalits have been in unease over the Supreme Court’s March 20 judgment diluting SC/ST Act. Dalits are sad that Judge A.K. Goel, who gave the judgment, has been made NGT chairman,” Raj told the Lok Sabha on Tuesday.
BJP in a quandary
Amidst the growing clamour for Goel’s removal, the BJP finds itself in a tricky situation especially in view of the next Lok Sabha polls.
While admitting that the Goel’s appointment may have backfired, party sources said it was unlikely that the demand for the sacking of NGT chief will be accepted.
“The appointment has caused unnecessary controversy, it is unfortunate that Goel’s appointment is being perceived as a message for the BJP being anti-Dalit which is not true at all. Neither such appointments nor removal are guided by political considerations, therefore it is unfair to demand his removal over political reasons. Removing from a statutory post require solid grounds,” said a party source.
“His appointment has caused enough controversy and I don’t think the party or the government can afford some more by acceding to the demands of his removal. However, the decision rests with the Prime Minister and the President,” added the source.
The issue has cropped up at a time when BJP which is increasingly looking to woo Dalits with an eye on the next Lok Sabha polls. Also it comes at a time when the review petition by the Modi government is pending before the Supreme Court.
Whether or not the government accedes to the demand of Goel’s removal will have a huge bearing not just on the BJP’s own Dalit MPs but also those from the allies, especially the LJP and Paswan considered the NDA’s most prominent Dalit face.