How true are Rahul Gandhi’s allegations that the BJP is diluting the SC/ST Act?

Rahul Gandhi has been on a campaigning spree after the Supreme Court ruling on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act became news and he has been accusing PM Modi and BJP repeatedly for attempting to dilute the law. Though Rahul Gandhi’s accusations without fact-check are rather usual, this time his allegations are on a sensitive issue.

The nation witnessed widespread violence on 2nd April, when Dalit groups protested across several states resulted in several deaths. In his rallies in poll-bound Karnataka, Rahul tweeted that ‘the RSS and the BJP have it in their DNA to keep Dalits at the lowest level of the society’.

Before that, Rahul Gandhi had led a delegation of Congress leaders to meet the President and stated that the SC/ST Act is being diluted. In the Shivmoga election rally too, on the day of Bharat Bandh, Rahul accused the BJP of diluting the act.

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Rahul, however, has chosen to completely ignore the amendments brought in by the BJP government to make the act more stringent brought in by the amendment bill in December, 2015 to make it more effective and helpful to those who are the victims of atrocities.

The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, which brought forward ‘The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015’, made several significant changes to the existing act of 1989. [pdf]

The amendment act included a list of activities that are derogatory and offensive in nature under the previous act.

SC/ST (PoA) Amendment act 2015, courtesy: PIB India

The new act also provided for the IPC offences attracting less than ten years of imprisonment to be registered under the PoA Act.

courtesy: PIB India

The amendment Act also called for exclusive special courts and exclusive special public prosecutors for speedy trial and judgements for the benefit of SCs and STs while giving special courts the power to take cognizance of the offence and complete trials within two months from the date of filing the charge sheet. It added a chapter to the ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’ and called for the clear definition of ‘willful’ negligence on part of public servants at all levels under this act.

After the Supreme Court order on 20th March, the central government had filed a review petition in the apex court. Though yesterday the apex court denied any interim stay on the order, the hearings are to continue.

The Supreme Court in its yesterday’s hearing on the petition stated that the order was only meant to protect the rights of the innocent and prevent the misuse of a stringent law. Rahul Gandhi and several other politicians who have deliberately spread misinformation that the BJP government is making deliberate attempts to dilute the law must consider this. The violent protests took lives and destroyed valuable public properties. The Dalits who actually face problems and who are the very people this law aims to protect should be provided with the correct facts. While there are constant debates on whether the protests had political backing, the fact remains that people lost lives, law and order were disrupted and huge losses were incurred.

The Supreme Court bench comprising of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit stated that the people agitating are misinformed about the order and have been misled. A detailed reading of the order dated 20th March shows that the Supreme Court has not diluted the law in any way but has merely put some safeguards in place so that innocents are spared from frivolous complainants.

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