NEW DELHI: The manner in which government maintains data under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is set to undergo a big change. For the first time, the categories of crimes committed under this Act will be listed out in the next NCRB report, The Sunday Standard has learnt. The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), which functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs and collates annual data on crimes in the country, is planning to collect data on separate offences covered under the SC/ST Atrocities Act.
The new repository of such crimes will be part of NCRB’s Crime in India 2017 report that is likely to be released in the coming months. At present, there is no centralised, specific data on offences covered under the SC/ST Atrocities Act. But by next year, the government’s central sector project ‘Crime and Criminal Tracking Networks and Systems (CCTNS)’ aims to provide comprehensive and integrated data system on all crimes for effective policing through e-Governance.
According to top government sources, NCRB is planning to create at least four new sub-categories that will list out offences committed under the Act, which lists 22 offences. The offences whose statistics will be maintained include: insulting an SC/ST person with the intent of humiliating him/ her; occupying land belonging to SCs/STs; preventing or obstructing usage of public place (water body, temple etc.); forcing an SC/ST person to leave one’s place of residence or social boycott. In March, the Supreme Court had cited low conviction rates under the Atrocities Act law and struck down a provision for automatic arrests of the accused. The court also made it mandatory for police to conduct preliminary inquiries within seven days of a complaint being lodged before filing an FIR.
The SC ruling also stated that public servants can be arrested under this law only after a written permission by their public authority. The alleged dilution of the Act was criticised by human rights groups and Dalits and tribal activists who pointed out that while conviction rates of crimes under this Act has been consistently declining, the number of such crimes has been on the rise in the past few years. Also, the conviction rates under the Atrocities Act are much lower than the average national conviction rate for all crimes in general, which stands at 42.5 per cent.
NCRB data of 2016 on cases of atrocities under the Act showed a conviction rate of 25.7 per cent for SC cases and of 20.8 per cent for cases filed by ST complainants. According to critics of the judgment, low conviction rates do not mean that the cases that ended in acquittals were false. Rather, they points towards the procedural faultlines and poor awareness of the law which, in turn, also leads to massive under-reporting of the crime. According to experts, the NCRB move to put out data on crimes committed under the Act will create awareness among the people which will lead to better implementation of the Act. Lack of awareness prevents the complainant from reporting the crime in the first place. It also leaves scope for police and other authorities to misguide them.