The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and Rules 1995

    The year 1989 was historic moments for the SCs and STs of India, for it was then that Parliament enacted the Schedule Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities), Act, 1989 and subsequently the Schedule Castes/Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules.1995. No doubt these two significant pieces of legislation raised high hopes in the hearts of these two communities for comprehensive protection of their right to security of life. Although serving as the backbone of the Indian economy for centuries in terms of providing sustained labour and protecting natural resources, the SCs and STs have been suffering exclusion and exploitation, discrimination and atrocities down the years. It was only in 1989, 42 years after Independence, that the nation finally woke up to the horrendous crimes faced by these two communities at the hands of dominant caste forces and found in morally repugnant and legally obligatory to take a decisive step to end the pate of atrocities heaped against these two communities. Unfortunately, however, as subsequent trends showed, their hopes have been belied.

    Over the years since the Act and Rules came into existence, the number of incidents of atrocities against these two communities has not abated; rather, their frequency has been increasing and newer forms have been apparent. The appallingly less number of registration of cases in police stations and the abysmally low conviction rate have caused anxiety among members of these two communities. Moreover, the improper and ineffective coordination between the enforcement authorities at the state and district levels has raised doubts about the seriousness of those charged with the duty of impartially and conscientiously enforcing the law. In fact, the overall status of poor implementation of the various mandatory provisions of the Act and Rules has given rise to concern about whether these two communities can expect legal justice from the political governance system that swears by inclusive democracy, the rule of law and social justice for all citizens irrespective of their caste and creed, class and social status. Now that 23 years have passed since the Act was enacted by parliament, this concern gives rise to the questions: Should not a review various mandatory monitoring and accountability mechanisms of the Act and the Rules be undertaken in order to make their enforcement produce the expected results and benefits to the affected communities? In it is this context that one must raise a question about the status of performance of the governance machinery at the national and state levels.

    Every year the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India is guilty-bound to submit an Annual Status Report under Sec.21 (4) of the SC/ST (POA) Act to both Houses of parliament on the measures taken under the Act and Rules. In practice, however, the Ministry has not been submitting the reports regularly. Even when submitted, the content and quality of the reports have been wanting in many respects. There have been many gaps and limitations. In fact, our study data and field experience are indicating that, inadequate and insufficient efforts have been taken in enforcement of the POA Act at the ground level. Hence we are working with National Coalition for Strengthening of Prevention of Atrocities Act at wider level for the following purpose.

    • To analyse the trends and changes in the nature and forms of atrocities;
    • To assess the response of enforcement authorities in ensuring proper registration and investigation of cases of atrocities, prosecution of the accused, compensation measures provided, relief and rehabilitation delivery systems functioning in the respective states;
    • To give a clear picture of the performance of  district and state level authorities in the implementation of the mandatory provisions of the Act and rules, such as identification of authorities prone areas; measures to prevent atrocities; information on the conduct of the monthly, quarterly and half yearly reviews by District Magistrates, DGPs, Home Secretaries, Nodal Officers; performance of Special Courts and Special Public Prosecutors; and measures taken for effective enforcement of the Act including budget allocations in respective states;
    • To analyse the status and functioning of District Level Vigilance and Monitoring Committees (DVMC) and State Level Vigilance and Monitoring Committees (SVMC), their regular meeting and follow-up work as well as other provisions of these Committees. A number of Dalit, tribal and Human Rights civil society organisations as well as Human Rights Defenders, supporting and taking up the cause of SC/ST survivors of atrocities, have collected and scrutinised credible, quality and detailed data.
    • To advocate for appointment of High-Level committee to review the implementation of the Act and Rules in all the states and assess the realization of its objectives, take appropriate and speedy action for strengthening the Act for effective implementation in future.
    • To ensure mandatory conduct of periodic reviews, meetings and submission of the reports under the Act and Rules by the concerned State and District Level authorities and its results on SC/ST Communities.
    • To review the implementation of the Act and propose the needed amendments for safeguarding the socio-economic, political, educational and cultural rights of the Adivasis and Dalits (ST/SC) of India.

    Role of Adivasi Solidarity Council:

    • Organised workshop for the community leaders to understand the important rules and sections of the POA Act 1989 and Rules 1995 and distributed translated booklets on the Act to work at the grass-root level.
    • We have conducted district level meetings and state level workshops on advantages of the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities), Act, 1989 for protecting and promoting rights of the tribal people.
    • Formed Adivasi Peoples Federations in 42 locations and promoted community lawyers to articulate and advocate for the implementation of this Prevention of Atrocities Act for the basic and constitutional rights of the people.
    • Networking with the National Coalition for Strengthening of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act at the state and national level to bring new amendments as well as enforce the act at the grass-root level.
    • Conducting training camps and capacity building programmes on the importance of the POA Act
    • Monitoring and documenting human rights violations under the sections of the POA Act and advocating with the policy makers for the rights of the scheduled tribe communities.