The government is planning to bring an ordinance to overturn the Supreme Court verdict putting safeguards on arrests under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and subsequently introduce a bill to insulate it from further judicial scrutiny. The government is likely to introduce the bill in monsoon session of Parliament to incorporate the legislation in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, laws under which cannot be challenged in courts. Through the ordinance, the government will reintroduce provisions of the act which it feels were diluted by the Supreme Court verdict in March this year.
The “dilution” triggered massive protests by various Dalit and political outfits, during which nearly a dozen people were killed. “While the bill is a permanent arrangement to ensure that the SC/ST Act’s provisions are not diluted again, the ordinance is an interim arrangement to overturn the ruling,” a senior government functionary explained. The proposed ordinance would make it clear that notwithstanding any judgement or any other law in force, the provisions of the act shall remain valid.
“Once promulgated, this would mean the ordinance would overturn the SC order,” a Law Ministry official said. “The next hearing is on May 16 and much would depend on that,” said a senior official in the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry. Referring to the proposed bill, an official said, “Once included in the Ninth Schedule, the legislation gets protection under Article 31-B (validation of certain Acts and Regulations) and is not subject to judicial scrutiny.”
Recently, the Supreme Court refused to stay its March 20 order diluting certain provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. While hearing observations by attorney general K K Venugopal on a review petition filed by the Centre, the apex court had said that it was not against the Act but the innocent should not be punished.
Dalit groups had organised protests across the country on April 2 against the “dilution” of the act through the Supreme Court’s March 20 verdict. The protests had turned violent at several places which left nearly a dozen people killed. Opposition parties also accused the government of failing to protect Dalit rights.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had last month asserted that his government would not let any dilution in the law aimed at preventing atrocities against SCs and STs. In its March 20 order, the apex court had laid down new guidelines for police officers on how to ensure that innocent people, especially public officials, are protected from false complaints under the act.