NEW DELHI: The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 comes into effect from Tuesday, which means those indulging in actions which are derogatory to the dignity — including social or economic boycott — of SCs and STs will have to face stringent punishment.
Actions like tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar ones will be treated as atrocities. As per the amendment, people who deny SCs/STs access to irrigation facilities or forest rights or those who garland them with chappals or compel them to dispose of or carry human or animal carcasses or dig graves or abuse them in the name of their caste will face jail terms.
Special courts will also be set up and special public prosecutors will be appointed to try the offences under the PoA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases. The special courts will have the power to take direct cognizance of offences and as far as possible, complete trial within two months from the date of filing of the chargesheet. In a statement, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said, “Certain criminal offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping etc, attracting less than ten years of imprisonment, committed against members of SC/ST, will be treated as offences punishable under the PoA Act.”
The ministry further pointed out that so far only those offences listed in IPC as attracting punishment of 10 years or more and committed on members of SCs/STs were accepted as offences falling under the PoA Act. There is an additional chapter on the ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’ in the Act.
It also 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. There is also an addition of presumption to the offences as in if the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015 which replaces the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was passed last year.