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Positive Apex Court verdict amidst 'sharp rise' in atrocity cases against Dalits, Adivasis

By Our Representative
Even as welcoming the Supreme Court ruling upholding the Constitutional validity of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act (PoA Amendment Act), civil rights organizations seeking to strengthen the law have regretted that there is a failure to ensure its actual implementation.
In a statement, the Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDN) and the National Coalition for Strengthening the Prevention of PoA Act (NCSPA) said, "We are concerned that even after the amendments came in force in 2016, which generated a hope to the Dalit and Adivasis victims in accessing speedy justice, it is not being enforced in a proper manner."
The statement said, "This is partly due to the procedural hurdles and apathy of the state in implementing the provisions. Dalits and Adivasis communities have still been suffering from inhuman atrocities like murders and mass murders, social boycott and economic boycott, mass arsons, rapes, gang rapes etc. on a daily basis all over India."
Yet, it noted, the judgement is meaningful, as it reaffirms the reliance and trust of members of SCs and STs on the provisions of the PoA Act and on the highest court of the country. It has finally put at rest the Supreme Court judgment dated March 20, 2018 in Criminal Appeal No 416 of 2018 (Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs the State of Maharashtra and Another), diluting the provisions of the PoA Act.
In August, 2018, Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018, to bypass the ruling of the Supreme Court of India laying down procedures for arrests under the Act. This was challenged by one Prathviraj Chauhan, who contended that it was liable to be struck down as being violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 and violative of the basic structure of the Constitution.
Finding that Chauhan's plea would adversely affect the very objective of the Act to prevent atrocities against members of SCs and STs, which would be severely detrimental, especially in heinous offences, Dr VA Ramesh Nathan of the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) filed a intervening petition.
The petition came on board along with the intervening petition filed by NDMJ before the bench comprising Justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and Ravindra Bhat, who on Monday upheld the Constitutional validity of the PoA Amendments of 2016 and 2018. The apex court ruled out the contention that the amendments were made out of "political pressure", and that the exclusion of the provision for anticipatory bail is arbitrary and unjust.

Atrocity figures

According to information forwarded by the National Dalit Movement for Justice (NDMJ) and the International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee in July 2019, while the reporting of crime against Dalits and Adivasis has risen over the decade, there has not been an equivalent rise in the rate of disposal of cases by the police and courts under the PoA Act.
Cases of crimes against SCs pending police investigation have nearly doubled (99%), from 8,380 cases to 16,654 cases in a decade. In the case of crime against Scheduled Tribes, pendency of investigation has risen 55% from 1,679 cases to 2,602 cases, the submission to the UN said.
At the same time, it said, in courts, crimes against SCs pending trial rose by 50% over the decade from 85,264 to 129,831. In 2016 alone, for which the latest figures were available, 40,801 new crimes against Dalit’s were registered under the PoA Act and less than 15,000 cases completed trial that year.
Cases of crimes against SCs pending police investigation have nearly doubled (99%), from 8,380 cases to 16,654 cases in a decade
The submission pointed out, the number of trials completed in court has dropped by 28% from 20,495 in a decade. For STs, trials completed in a year has nearly halved (by 49%) in a decade from 2,895 to 4,317, while those pending trial has risen by 28%.
Stating that the conviction rate remains less than 30% over the decade, the submission said, among the crimes that do get disposed of in court, about a quarter lead to convictions in crimes against Dalits. As of 2016, this conviction rate calculated by dividing the number of convictions in a year by number of cases completing trial in a year stood at 26%, a 2 % point decline from the rate a decade ago (28%).
As for the conviction rate in cases of crime against STs, these were 21% in 2016, which is "even worse, showing a 7-percentage-point decline in a decade.
The submission noted, as many as 4,22,799 crimes against Dalits and 81,332 crimes against Adivasis were reported in the decade. Over the decade, crime rate against Dalit’s rose by 25%; from 16.3 crimes per 100,000 Dalits reported to 20.3 crimes.
It added, the highest increases in crimes were recorded in eight states Goa, Kerala, Delhi, Gujarat, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand and Sikkim where rates rose over 10 times.
Further, it said, cases pending police investigation for both marginalised groups has risen by 99% and 55% respectively, while the pendency in courts has risen by 50% and 28%, respectively. The conviction rates for crime against SCs and STs have fallen by 2% points and 7% points, respectively, to 26% and 21% in a decade.
Meanwhile, DHRDN and NCSPA have put forward a number of demands to fight the "looming challenge of ineffective implementation of the amended SCs and STs (PoA) Act", the statement said, not only the PoA Act should be robustly enforced, "exclusive" Special Courts as per Section 14 of the PoA Act in each district should be set up, and "these courts shall not take cases of any other legislation."
At the same time, they said, public prosecutors of victim’s choice should be appointed as per Rule 4 (5) of the SCs and STs (PoA) Rules 1995 for the sake of "open and transparent investigation" under the Act.

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