Changes in SC/ST law: Centre alerts all states

Days after Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced he will ensure that the newly amended Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is “not misused” and that no one is arrested before an investigation, the Union Home Ministry has written to states and Union Territories clarifying that Parliament has amended the Act “to nullify” conduct of a preliminary enquiry before registration of an FIR, or to seek approval of any authority prior to the arrest of an accused.

The ministry’s directives came after reports that some poll-bound states are still dithering on the implementation of the amended Act. MP, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana are among the states headed for elections later this year and OBCs and upper castes are joining hands to express their resentment over restoration of what they call the law’s stringent provisions.

“Since the matter is very sensitive and has caused a lot of unrest and a sense of disharmony in the country, communication to states and UTs were sent to inform them regarding the amended Act,” an official said.

The move has led to fresh criticism by upper caste groups who feel that the NDA government has brought the amendments to woo Dalit voters and has ignored “concerns” of upper-caste and OBCs. On August 9, Parliament approved amendment to Act following protests by Dalit groups over its dilution by the Supreme Court.

Under the new legislation, a new Section 18A was inserted to nullify the conduct of a preliminary enquiry before registration of an FIR or to seek approval of any authority prior to arrest of an accused.

The Centre had also expressed concern over the low rate of conviction, massive spike in pendency and a steady decline in the number of cases that complete trial under the Act.

As per 2017 NCRB data of crimes against SC/ST (PoA) Act, between 2015 and 2016 reported crimes against Dalits increased by 5.5% (from 38,670 to 40,801), and those against STs by 4.5% (from 6,276 to 6,568).

Rape and “assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty” constituted the largest number of cases of atrocities against SCs and STs. In 2016, the largest number of reported rapes of Dalit women was in UP (557), while rapes of Adivasi women in Madhya Pradesh (377), Chhattisgarh (157), and Odisha (91) accounted for 10% of all crimes committed against STs throughout the country.

Conviction rates dropped sharply from 38% in 2010 to 16% in 2016 for crimes against SCs, and from 26% in 2010 to 8% in 2016 for crimes against STs, as per the NCRB report.

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