Cabinet clears changes in SC/ST Act despite Sharad Pawar, Ajit Singh objections

SC-STThe amendments provide for dedicated courts and special public prosecutors. (IE Photo)

Despite opposition from two senior ministers, the cabinet on Wednesday cleared amendments to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, including one that makes mere knowledge of SC/ST status of the victim sufficient to establish guilt.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh of RLD and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar of NCP held that with misuse of the POA Act increasing, the amendments may make matter worse. Singh said there are increasing instances of a lower caste person being used as a pawn in a fight between two upper castes. Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Kumari Selja insisted all states have been taken on board and the amendments need to be adopted without further delay.

The primary change is that mere knowledge of perpetrator of an atrocity that the person targeted belongs to a scheduled caste or tribe is enough to make him/her guilty. The ministry's stand is there are many instances where police have refused to register a case as the complainant at the time of lodging it, could not prove his/her caste identity.

Among the atrocities listed are preventing those from SC/STs from filing election nomination or forcing them to withdraw, social/economic boycott, preventing them from using common property like tubewells or preventing them from entering a place of worship, destruction of crops sown by SC/STs or filing counter cases to force withdrawal of complaints.

The amendments provide for dedicated courts and special public prosecutors. Each trial has to be completed in two months from filing chargesheet with delays being reported to the High Court. Offenders can be fined up to Rs 1 lakh.

The Cabinet also approved the health ministry proposal to start a BSc (community health) programme for creation of a mid-level health cadre. The BSc (community health) proposal was moved by the ministry even after an unequivocal no from a standing committee. The ministry, to quell protests, put in a caveat that states that do not want to start the programme can opt out.

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