SCHEDULED CASTE SCHEDULED TRIBE (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) ACT 1989
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Context: The CB-CID has lodged complaints against the Inspector and a few other police employees under the provisions of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 while investigating claims of custody torture in the Ambasamudram Police Sub-Division in Tamil Nadu.
- As the two victims were Dalits, the CB-CID has invoked the provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 against the former Inspector of Police and a few Ambasamudram police station personnel.
Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989
- The Act was enacted by the Parliament of India to address the persistent and pervasive discrimination, violence and oppression faced by the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in various spheres of life.
- It is also known as the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act.
- It defines various offences against SCs and STs as atrocities and provides for stringent punishment for the perpetrators.
Main objectives of the Act
- To recognize and criminalize various forms of atrocities committed against SCs and STs that violate their constitutional rights and human dignity.
- To provide adequate legal protection to SCs and STs against such atrocities and ensure their access to justice.
- To create a conducive environment for the social and economic empowerment of SCs and STs and prevent their exploitation and marginalization.
- To promote awareness and sensitization among the general public and public servants about the rights and entitlements of SCs and STs under the Constitution and other laws.
- The Act covers a wide range of offences against SCs and STs, such as causing physical or mental harm, sexual abuse, economic exploitation, social boycott, forcible conversion, land grabbing, denial of access to public services, etc.
Responsibilities of Administration
- It imposes a duty on every public servant to take necessary steps to protect SCs and STs from any harm or harassment arising out of an offence under the Act.
- Failure to do so can result in imprisonment of up to six months or a fine or both.
- It imposes a duty on every public servant to register a complaint or information relating to an offence under the Act without any delay or discrimination.
- Failure to do so can result in imprisonment of up to one year or a fine or both.
- It mandates that any offence under the Act shall be investigated by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) within 30 days.
- It empowers the state governments to establish special courts for the exclusive trial of offences under the Act within a period of 2 months from the date of filing of the charge sheet.
Relief to Victims
- It provides free legal aid to the victims and witnesses of atrocities at all stages of the legal process.
- It entitles the victims and their dependents to immediate relief, compensation, rehabilitation and resettlement as per the prescribed norms.
- It prohibits anticipatory bail for any person accused of an offence under the Act unless there is no prima facie case against him or her.
- It prescribes a minimum sentence of 6 months imprisonment for any offence under the Act, which can extend up to life imprisonment or the death penalty in certain cases.
- Lack of awareness and sensitization among the SCs and STs about their rights and remedies under the Act. Many victims do not report the atrocities due to fear of retaliation, social stigma, or lack of confidence in the legal system.
- Delay and denial of justice due to procedural hurdles, inadequate infrastructure, shortage of staff, and bias or indifference of the police, judiciary, and public prosecutors.
- The conviction rate under the Act is very low compared to other criminal cases.
- Misuse and abuse of the Act by some individuals or groups for personal or political motives. The Act has been criticized for being too harsh and draconian, violating the principles of natural justice and the human rights of the accused.
- Resistance and opposition from the dominant castes and communities who perceive the Act as a threat to their social and economic interests.
- The Act has often triggered violent protests and clashes between different groups, leading to further victimization of the SCs and STs.
- Lack of coordination and cooperation among various stakeholders such as the central and state governments, civil society organizations, media, and academia.
- The Act requires a holistic and multi-pronged approach to address the root causes of caste-based discrimination and violence.
These challenges call for urgent reforms and interventions to ensure that the Act fulfils its objectives and purpose of preventing atrocities against the SCs and STs.
Steps need to be taken
- Creating awareness and education campaigns to inform the SCs and STs about their rights and entitlements under the Act, as well as to sensitize the general public about the plight and problems of these communities.
- Strengthening the implementation and monitoring mechanisms of the Act by providing adequate funds, infrastructure, manpower, training, and guidelines to the authorities concerned.
- The special courts, public prosecutors, police officers, and welfare officers should be appointed exclusively for dealing with cases under the Act.
- Preventing misuse and abuse of the Act by ensuring fair and impartial investigation and trial of the cases. False or frivolous complaints should be discouraged and penalized.
- The rights and interests of the accused should also be protected as per the law.
- Promoting dialogue and reconciliation between different castes and communities to foster social harmony and mutual respect.
- The role of civil society organizations, media, religious leaders, and opinion-makers is crucial in this regard.
- Addressing the underlying issues of caste-based discrimination and violence by implementing affirmative action policies, socio-economic development programs, legal reforms, and cultural changes.
- The SCs and STs should be empowered to participate in decision-making processes that affect their lives.
- The Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 is a progressive and comprehensive legislation that seeks to uphold the constitutional rights and dignity of SCs and STs in India.
- It is a powerful tool to combat caste-based discrimination, violence and oppression that has plagued Indian society for centuries. However, the effective implementation of the Act depends on various factors such as political will, administrative efficiency, judicial sensitivity, social awareness and civil society participation.
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Q. What are the main objectives and features of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989? How has the Act been amended over time to address the challenges and issues faced by the SCs and STs in India? Discuss with suitable examples.