Rajya Sabha passed SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015
The bill amends existing categories and adds new categories of offences with provision for establishment of exclusive special courts for trying and disposing the cases within 2 months.
The upper house of Parliament, Rajya Sabha on 21 December 2015 passed the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2015. The bill seeks to amend the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
With this, both the Houses of Parliament, viz., Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed the bill. Lok Sabha passed the bill in August 2015.
Main Highlights of the Bill
Amending Existing Offences & Adding New Offences
• The bill amends certain existing categories and adds certain categories of actions by non SCs and STs against SCs or STs to be treated as offences
• Forcing an SC or ST individual to vote or not vote for a particular candidate in a manner that is against the law was an offence under the Act. The bill adds that impeding certain activities related to voting will also be considered an offence.
• The bill defines “wrongful” in the context of occupying land belonging to SCs or STs to treat it as an offence under the Act.
• With respect to assault or sexual exploitation of SC or ST women, the Bill adds following act as an offence:
a) Intentionally touching an SC or ST woman in a sexual manner without her consent
b) Using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature
c) Dedicating an SC or ST women as a devadasi to a temple, or any similar practice will also be considered an offence.
d) The bill defines consent as a voluntary agreement through verbal or non-verbal communication.
• The bills adds new offences, namely (a) garlanding with footwear, (b) compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or do manual scavenging, (c) abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public, (d) attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs or STs or disrespecting any deceased person held in high esteem, and (e) imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott.
• Preventing SCs or STs from undertaking the following activities will be considered an offence: (a) using common property resources, (c) entering any place of worship that is open to the public, and (d) entering an education or health institution.
• 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.
Duty of Public Servants
• The bill specifies the duty and role non SC or ST public servants failing which the concerned public servant shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of six months to one year.
• The duty specified in the bill are: (a) registering a complaint or FIR, (b) reading out information given orally, before taking the signature of the informant and giving a copy of this information to the informant, etc.
Setting up of Exclusive Special Courts
• 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.
• Provides for an adequate number of courts must be established to ensure that cases are disposed of within two months.
• Appeals of these courts shall lie with the high court, and must be disposed of within three months.
• A Public Prosecutor and Exclusive Public Prosecutor shall be appointed for every Special Court and Exclusive Special Court respectively.
Rights of victims and witnesses
• The Bill 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.
• The state government shall specify a scheme to ensure the implementation of rights of victims and witnesses.
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