New Delhi: Amid a boycott by most opposition parties, the Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed a bill which provides for stringent action against those compelling any member of SC or ST communities to carry human or animal carcasses or do manual scavenging.
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 aims to prohibit the commission of offences against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs) and provides for establishing special courts for the trial of such offences and the rehabilitation of victims.
It makes garlanding with footwear, compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or do manual scavenging, abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public, attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs or STs or disrespecting any deceased person held in high esteem, and imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott as an offence.
It specifies that a non SC or ST public servant who neglects his duties relating to SCs or STs shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of six months to one year.
The Bill, which seeks to amend the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, also has certain new categories of actions to be treated as offences like forcing an SC or ST individual to vote or not vote for a particular candidate in a manner that is against the law is an offence under the Act.
Wrongfully occupying land belonging to SCs or STs is an offence under the bill which was passed by a voice vote in the absence of Congress and most other opposition parties which boycotted the House to express solidarity with the suspended 25 Congress MPs.
Assaulting or sexual exploiting an SC or ST woman is an offence under the bill which states that any intentional touching of an SC or ST woman in a sexual manner without her consent, using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature, dedicating an SC or ST women as a devadasi to a temple, or any similar practice will also be considered an offence. The Bill also states that preventing SCs or STs from using common property resources, entering any place of worship that is open to the public, and entering an education or health institution will be considered an offence.
The court shall presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim if the accused had personal knowledge of the victim or his family, unless the contrary is proved.
The Bill specifies that an Exclusive Special Court must be established at the district level to try offences under the Bill. In districts with fewer cases, a special court may be established to try offences.
It also adds a chapter on the rights of victims and witness. It shall be the duty of the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents and witnesses.
Responding to concerns of members about the possibility of misuse of the law by filing false cases, Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot said, "There are already provisions in the IPC for punishing people for making false cases."
He said the government has taken a series of steps over the past one year like strongly implementing the Manual Scavenging Act, giving Rs 40,000 as compensation and freeing them from the act.
"We are also taking steps to fill the vacant posts reserved for the SCs and STs," Gehlot said.