A report by the Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committee highlights the deficiencies in the implementation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
CASTE continues to be a fundamental episteme of Indian society.
While detractors and certain political ideologies either dismiss it as athing of the past or as aforeign invention, the atrocities committed against people who have been pushed to the bottom of this form of social stratification bear testimony to the fact that the system is alive and kicking and very much a part of Indian society.
Functioning parallelly to state and district-level vigilance and monitoring committees, the Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committee seeks to ensure that Dalits and Adivasis can “live as full citizens”.
Atrocities against scheduled communities
Data from the National Crime Records Bureau shows that there has been an increase in the number and severity of recorded atrocities against members of scheduled communities, i.e., Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST).
In 2021, 59,702 such atrocities were recorded. The year marked the third consecutive year when over a thousand members of the scheduled communities were murdered in inter-community crime (by persons from non-scheduled communities); and when rape was the most recorded inter-community crime against women and girls.
Despite the SC/ST Act being in force, the conviction rate in offences committed against members of the two communities is a mere 36 percent.
The pendency of such cases has increased to 96 percent and the number of pending cases has increased by almost 300 percent to 254,475.
Citizens’ Vigilance and Monitoring Committee report
The report, titled Citizens’ audit of the Union report u/s 21 (4)— the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, 1989, analyses the legal framework that aims to protect members of the scheduled communities from atrocities and the gaps in implementation.
Main features of the Act
The report explains that the Act stems from guarantees under the Constitution, that is, Articles17 (abolishing the practice of Untouchability and declaring it an offence) and35 (authorising the Parliament to enact laws prescribing punishments for acts declared offences under Part III of the Constitution).
Under the directive principles of State policy, Article38 provides for a society characterised by social, political and economic justice. Whereas Article46 binds the State to protect scheduled communities.
State governments and Union territories administrators, along with police and magistrates, are responsible for the implementation of the Act.
Section 16 of the Act mandates each state to constitute a high-power vigilance and monitoring committee, with the chief minister as the chairperson, to review its implementation.
Similarly, vigilance and monitoring committees at district and sub-divisional levels review the implementation of the Act quarterly.
The Act provides for special courts, exclusive special courts, special public prosecutors and exclusive public prosecutors to ensure timely prosecution of cases involving offences against the scheduled communities.
Additionally, the Act also makes provisions for special police stations and special officers to ensure coordination among different arms of the State.
According to the report, although successive governments have acknowledged the plight of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, the government refrains from taking steps for effective implementation of the laws.
The report says, “Wilful and conscious subversion of laws by government officials tasked with implementing the Act has more to do with the biased attitudes and perspectives of officials, both police and revenue, than with lack of knowledge about the laws.”
According to Section 21(4) of the Act, the Union government is mandated to place a report on the measures taken for the effective implementation of the Act, before each house of the Parliament.
Under Rule 18 of the 1995 Rules, state governments are required to submit a report to the Union government before March 31 of each year.
Whereas, under Rule 4(4), every district magistrate is required to send a report before the 20th day of each subsequent month on each case of atrocity against members of the SC and ST communities to the director of prosecution and the state government.
The report says that such statutory reports provide “critical data for decisions at the district, state and Union levels”.
However, the report points out that some states and Union territories fail to file the statutory reports.
Further, even when the reports are filed, they do not contain all the required information on the measures mandated to be taken by the state government for the implementation of the provisions of the 1989 Act.
For instance, as per the report, the district magistrates in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Kerala have neglected the filing of their monthly reports. While district magistrates in Arunachal Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands filed the report, the respective state governments failed to review them.
The report states that the primary function of the state-level high power monitoring committee is to meet with the chief minister and review the implementation of the Act.
The report highlights that 16 such state-level committees did not meet with the chief ministers of their respective states during 2016–18.
The report states that in 2021, only nine of the 72 mandatory meetings of the state-level monitoring committees were conducted, amounting to 12 percent of the compliance rate.
The district vigilance and monitoring compliance committees’ meeting compliance rate amounted to 50 percent in 2021, the report adds.
As per the report, officials from the Indian Administrative Service and the Indian Police Service, including the superintendent of police, the deputy superintendent of police and the district magistrate, are responsible for the implementation of the Act.
The protocols and procedures from prevention to restitution and socioeconomic rehabilitation are implemented and monitored by the state, the report reads.
The report claims that this mechanism, relying heavily as it does on state officials, presents evidence of “multi-organ failure” in delaying relief and denying socio-economic rehabilitation of scheduled community victims of atrocities in a situation where “acquittals are high, appeals are low and accountability is absent”.
Rule 15(1)(a) of the 1995 Rules directs the state government to prepare a contingency plan for a scheme to provide immediate relief to scheduled community members that have come under attack in cash or kind or both.
The report explains that the Dr Ambedkar Foundation (an autonomous body under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment) under the Dr Ambedkar National Relief to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Victims of Atrocities Scheme provide instant monetary relief to the victims of heinous offences under the 1989 Act.
The relief amounts to ₹5,00,000 to each victim of atrocity or their family members, the report adds.
The report highlights that in 2021, only 7.75 percent of the sanctioned relief reached the victims or their families. Moreover, the report states that the quantum of reimbursement is found to be arbitrary and unreasonably low.
Atrocity prone areas
Section 21(2)(vii) of the 1989 Act directs the state government to take necessary measures for the implementation of the Act, including “the identification of the areas where the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes are likely to be subjected to atrocities and adoption of such measures so as to ensure safety for such members.”
According to the Rules, following the identification of such atrocity-prone areas, special officers and exclusive special prosecutors need to be appointed in the identified areas, and special police stations and exclusive special courts need to be set up.
The report highlights that only 12 states and the Union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands have identified atrocity-prone areas as defined under the Rules.
In Uttar Pradesh, which has the highest number of recorded SC/ST atrocity cases, not a single atrocity-prone area has been identified to date, the report observes.
Special court and public prosecutors
One of the primary objectives of the 1989 Act is to provide for special courts and exclusive special courts for the trial of offences of atrocities against members of scheduled communities.
Section 15(1) of the 1989 Act mandates one special prosecutor for one special court and Section 15(2) requires the appointment of one exclusive special public prosecutor for every exclusive special court.
However, the report highlights that there are fewer special public prosecutors and fewer exclusive special public prosecutors than special courts and exclusive special courts respectively.
The report states that eleven states are not compliant with the two provisions. Further, out of the top 15 states in recorded atrocities against scheduled communities, Haryana and Kerala do not have any exclusive special courts.
Moreover, it is noted by the report that during the period of 2017–21, the number of pending atrocity cases has increased from 176,067 in 2017 to 295,115 in 202— a rise of 68 percent.
The report notes a need for “a complete systems overhaul” to enable all constituent parts of the mechanism responsible for the implementation of the laws to work in harmony.
“Officials cannot cherry pick which rules they will implement,” the report says.
In the foreword of the report, Justice Madan B. Lokur, former judge of the Supreme Court, opines that the issues highlighted in the report are worth discussing and debating so that the members of scheduled communities are provided access to justice and their rehabilitation is made meaningful.
Justice Lokur urges the report to be taken seriously so that justice can be done to large sections of the society that have “no voice or visibility”.
In a land where a political leaderurinating on a tribal person quickly fades off from public memory, getting rid of three millennia of injustice is surely a tall order.