(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
December 15, 2013
CPI(M) Submits Memorandum
On Amendments to SC/ST POA Act
THE CPI(M) delegation comprising K Varadarajan, Polit Bureau member of the CPI(M), Basudev Acharia, Central Committee member and leader of the CPI(M) group in Lok Sabha, V Srinivasa Rao, Central Secretariat member and G Mamatha, CPI(M) member met Selja, minister for social justice and empowerment, government of India on December 10, 2013 and submitted a memorandum urging the government to move the amendments to strengthen the Prevention of Atrocities Act and adopt them in this winter session of the parliament. They also submitted another memorandum asking the government to provide statutory status to the Sub Plan funds for the Scheduled castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The memorandum on the amendments to the POA Act noted that it is almost 25 years since the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was enacted with the purpose of preventing and protecting SC/STs from caste based atrocities. But despite this, the attacks continue to rise, warranting a re-look at the Act. It is also clear that the implementation of the Act has been ineffective. Tardy investigation, huge pendency of cases and low conviction rate in the cases registered under the Act have made the Act lose its purpose.
The memorandum urged the government to amend the POA Act suitably to plug the loopholes and strengthen it. The Rules and the Annexures have to be updated periodically. It said that the experiences of the last 25 years show that the following areas in the Act are weak and need to be amended.
· Crime List
The list of crimes mentioned in the Act needs to be expanded keeping in mind the changing nature and new forms of caste discrimination and attacks. Crimes such as social boycott, ban on temple entry, ban on utilising public spaces should be brought under the crime list. Holding of caste group meetings against SC/STs, threatening inter-caste marriages and desecrating symbols and idols related to the SC/STs should be brought under the crime list.
The state governments should identify the forms of discrimination specific to their states and they should be mentioned in the annexures to the Act. They should be made punishable offences.
· Definition of Crime
The definition of crime should be modified to check the non-invoking of the POA Act in cases of casteist attacks and oppression. Under rules, (point 2), the word 'wife' is to be replaced by spouse. Grandparents to be included in the list.
Scope of Law: It will be lawful for court to draw a presumption that at the time of commission of the offence under various clauses of the section-3, the offender knew that victim belongs to SC/ST as the case may be.
· Preventive Measures
Implementing preventive measures is the most important step in curbing the rising atrocities on SC/STs. Monitoring committees should visit the sensitive areas that have been identified at least twice a year to build confidence among the SC/STs. They must also submit review reports regularly.
· Monitoring Mechanisms
Monitoring Committees have to be more pro-active and the nodal officers should be made in-charge of the monitoring committees. They must organise regular awareness campaigns against caste discrimination and educate the SC/STs about the laws that protect them.
· Changing the Structure of Police & Investigation Machinery
Many cases of casteist attacks have been acquitted mainly due to the lack of proper investigation and the required evidence. Therefore, the structure of police and investigation machinery should be changed so that the loopholes are plugged to ensure justice to the victims. Special investigation teams led by not less than the rank of DySP should be formed for investigating POA cases.
While booking cases, the victim can take the help of advocates or representatives of mass organisations. This should be made an authorised mechanism. In atrocity prone areas, police teams should make a visit every month and take the signatures of SC/STs about the visit as part of confidence building measures. Ensure that the police who are investigating the case continue till it is completed.
Negligence on the part of the police in investigating should be made a serious punishable offence.
Special public prosecutors should appeal the cases to higher court in time when there are acquittals.
· Role of Courts & Punishment
Given the high rates of pendency in the POA cases and low conviction rates, it is necessary that Special Courts should exclusively take up only POA cases. There should be a time-frame fixed for the trial of such cases, which should not be more than three months. If the time period exceeds, a report should be filed which should be given to the High Court and to the victim concerned. The punishment should also be enhanced substantially to serve as a deterrence. If the trial court feels that there is lack of proper investigation, instead of acquitting, it should order for re-investigation. Special public prosecutors should appeal the cases to higher court in time when there are acquittals.
· Issues Linked With Civil Rights Act & IPC
Cases pertaining to caste discrimination in the IPC and Civil Rights Act should be tried under the POA Act.
· Compensation & Rehabilitation of Victims
There should be timely provision of compensation and rehabilitation of victims. The compensation should be enhanced substantially and rehabilitation should be provided by the government. In most of the cases, the rehabilitation and relief is provided by the concerned community. Every three years, there should be a review of the compensation amount and it should be increased.
Compensation should be paid as soon as an FIR is lodged. After the charge sheet is filed, 50 % of the compensation should be paid and remaining 50 % after the announcement of the judgement. A minimum of 15 lakhs compensation in the case of deceased should be paid. Compensation for other injuries and loss should be enhanced by 70 %. Compensation amount should be collected from the accused. If he cannot pay, then there should be an additional increase in the punishment.
· Cyber Crime
There is a growing trend of perpetrating crime on SC/STs using the cyber space. Cyber abuse and sending derogatory messages against SC/STs, intimidation and harassment through using cyber space should be made punishable. The government should provide for dealing with such crime, in the law.
Amendments to the POA Act and Rules should be moved and enacted in the winter session of the parliament. New offences not defined in the Act should be included. Punishment for atrocities and attacks on SC/STs should be made more severe.
Compensation to the victims should be increased. Measures have to be taken to rehabilitate the victims immediately after the incidents.
More fast track courts should be established. Appoint more exclusive special public prosecutors for speedy disposal of cases within the time frame.
Rights of the victims and witnesses have to be defined in the Act.
All discriminatory practices should be treated as civil offences and tried accordingly.
Strict action should be taken on the police officials who fail to take preventive measures to stop an attack on SC/STs. Action should also be taken on the administration that pressurises SC/STs to make a compromise.
The provisions of the POA Act should be made applicable to all dalits and tribals irrespective of their religion.
SCSP and TSP should be given statutory status. The government
Economic empowerment of the SC/STs should be ensured. All the backlog posts should be filled up. Reservations in the private sector should be implemented. Land should be allotted for every SC/ST family which is landless, along with other landless poor.
Different monitoring committees should co-ordinate their work and suggest measures to curb rising atrocities on SC/STs. It should be ensured that monitoring committees meet frequently.
Inter-caste marriages should be encouraged. Apart from the economic assistance, the administration should ensure the safety of the couples in such marriages.
A wide campaign should be conducted in a sustained manner against caste discrimination and attacks on dalits. There should also be a campaign educating the SC/STs about the POA Act and its provisions.