LS passes bill to restore SC/ST Act (Lead)

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New Delhi : The Lok Sabha on Monday passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018, which seeks to overturn a Supreme Court order that struck down the provision for immediate arrest.

The amendment bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot last week.

"The government had filed a review petition in the Supreme Court with regard to its order to strike down the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

"Following the court decision, many SC/ST organisations called for a 'Bharat Bandh', leading to unfortunate incidents. The court decision says that to arrest an accused, approval of the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSPs) concerned will be required. But this is not possible because in most parts of the country there are no SSPs," Gehlot said while speaking on the bill in the Lok Sabha.

He pointed out that in his native state Madhya Pradesh, SSPs are posted only in Gwalior, Bhopal and Indore.

Replying to the debate on the bill, Gehlot asked the Congress if they were so concerned about protecting the rights of the SCs and ST, why didn't they strengthen the Act for so many years since the Act was passed in 1989.

"If they thought there was scope for improvement in the Act and if there were some gaps, why didn't they amend it? They accuse us of delaying in bringing the amendment bill, but why didn't they do till 2015, when our government strengthened the Act?" he said.

The Minister also said that under the Act, now there are 47 crimes registered, while earlier there were just 22 crimes. "We didn't delay in bringing the amendment bill. The opposition tried to create an atmosphere in the country by spreading propaganda that we were anti-SC/ST and were delaying the bill," Gehlot added.

Leader of Congress party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said it took three-four months for the Narendra Modi government to bring the bill in the House and also questioned why it did not bring an ordinance on the matter for so long.

"If the government could bring six ordinances on various other issues to favour a corporate, it also could have brought the 7th ordinance on this matter. But, unfortunately, the government could not bring an ordinance to protect the rights of millions (over 25 per cent population) of such persons in the country," said Kharge.

The Act prohibits commission of offences against members of the weaker sections and establishes special courts for trial of such offences and rehabilitation of victims.

On March 20, the Supreme Court ruled that to arrest persons accused of committing an offence under the said Act, approval of the SSP concerned will be required. Further, a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) may conduct a preliminary inquiry to find out whether a prima facie case is made out under the Act.

The bill states that the Investigating Officer will not require approval of any authority for the arrest of the accused. Further, it provides that a preliminary inquiry will not be required for the registration of an FIR against those accused under the Act.

The bill says that persons accused of committing an offence under the proposed Act cannot apply for anticipatory bail. It seeks to clarify that this provision will apply despite any judgments or orders of a court that provide otherwise.