The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, is an amendment to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The Act received the assent of the President of India on December 31, 2015.
In addition to introducing stricter punishments for certain offences specified under the 1989 Act, the Amendment also incorporates offences previously not mentioned. It expands various sections of the 1989 ‘principal Act’ including sections on ‘punishment for offences of atrocities’ and ‘punishment for the neglect of duties’. This 2015 Amendment includes provisions for ‘exclusive special courts’ to oversee cases registered under this Act and adds a chapter titled ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’ codifying the duties and responsibilities of government officials towards victims and witnesses.
The Act was further amended in 2018.
What are some of the offences listed under the Act?
The Amendments substitutes section 3(1) of the 1989 Act and lists 26 offences. These include:
1. putting inedible or obnoxious substance into the mouth of a SC or ST member;
2. dumping sewage, carcasses or any other obnoxious substances in or at the entrance of a place occupied by a SC or ST person;
3. compelling persons from these communities to wear garlands of footwear or walk naked or semi-naked;
4. forcibly tonsuring a SC or ST member or removing their moustaches, painting their bodies without their consent, in a derogatory manner;
5. wrongfully taking lands belonging or allotted to member of SC and ST communities;
6. forcing SC and ST members to carry carcasses or dig graves;
7. making or allowing other to engage people from SC and ST communities to engage in manual scavenging;
8. making SC and ST women act as devadasis or other similar roles;
9. intimidating or forcing people from SC and ST communities into voting or not voting a certain way, or to stop them from filing their nomination as a candidate or withdrawing it
11. denying a SC or ST person the right of access or passage to a place of public resort
Which duties of public servants does the Act outline?
A public servant not belonging to a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe who deliberately neglects their responsibilities under this Act may face imprisonment for a minimum of six months.
As per the Act, a public servant is duty bound to read out to the informant any information put into writing before accepting the informant’s signature. Public servants must also registering FIRs appropriately under the Act, record statements by victims and witnesses and provide them with copies of the same. They must also conduct necessary investigations and file the relevant chargesheet in the Special Court or the Exclusive Special Court within 60 days.
What rights of victims and witnesses does the Act add under Chapter IVA?
The state is responsible for ensuring that the victims of atrocities, their dependents, and witnesses are provided protection from intimidation, coercion, violence and threats of violence. The victims also have the right to be fairly with respect and dignity.
The victims are entitled to speak or file written submissions at the proceedings dealing with the conviction, acquittal or sentencing of the accused. They (as well as dependents and witnesses) can also apply to the courts for the concealment of their names and addresses in records of cases accessible to the public. Additionally, victims and their dependents have the right to approach non-governmental organisations, social workers or advocates for help.
The state is also obliged to ensure provision of the following to the victims and their dependents: free copies of the FIR (first information report), immediate relief in cash or kind, proper briefing as well as legal aid for the case.
How does the Amendment further change the 1989 principal Act?
The Amendment modifies phrases in certain sections of the Act to remove ambiguity and highlight intentional or wilful harm towards people from the SC and ST communities.
In clause (V) of section 3(2), the Amendment specifies that the offence against a person or property under the clause must have been committed “knowing that such person is a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe or such property belongs to such member."
Focus and Factoids by Daanish Narayan.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India
31 Dec, 2015