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Tuesday 21 January 2020

Amended SC/ST Act applies, beginning this Republic Day

New Delhi: The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, to ensure more stringent provisions for prevention of atrocities against members of the mentioned sections of the Indian population is in force with effect from 26 January.

Consequent upon passing of the Bill by the Lok Sabha on 4 August 2015 and Rajya Sabha on 21 December that year to make amendments in the original law of 1989, the Amendment last year, as assented by the President on 31 December 2015, was notified in the Gazette of India Extraordinary on 1 January. After framing the rules for enactment, it is the new law applicable since yesterday.

The key features of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, include new offences of atrocities like tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of members of SC and ST, garlanding with footwear, denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights, making members of the said communities dispose of or carry human or animal carcasses, dig graves, using or permitting manual scavenging, dedicating a SC or ST woman as a devadasi, abusing in the name of caste, branding a member of the communities as a witch, imposing social or economic boycott, preventing candidates from filing of nomination to contest elections, forcibly stripping a woman of either community, forcing a member of the said castes or tribes to leave a house, village or residence, defiling objects sacred to members of these communities, touching or using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature against SC and ST people.

Some new provisions have been added in the Amendment. Certain IPC offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping etc, attracting less than 10 years of imprisonment, committed against members of a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, have been added as offences punishable under the PoA Act. Hitherto, only those offences listed in IPC as attracting punishment of 10 years or more and committed on members of the said sections of society were accepted as offences falling under the PoA Act.

The amended law also provides for the establishment of exclusive special courts and specification of exclusive special public prosecutors to try the offences under the PoA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases. These special and exclusive special courts can take direct cognisance of offence and, as far as possible, complete the trial of every case within 2 months from the date of filing of the charge sheet.

There is a new chapter on the “Rights of Victims and Witnesses”. The changed law clearly defines the term “wilful negligence” of public servants at all levels, starting from the registration of complaint and covering aspects of dereliction of duty under this Act.

Presumption to the offences (if the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family) is another new provision. It implies that the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.

The featured image is representative; it is a scene from the film Bandit Queen.

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