The Maratha morchas sweeping across Maharashtra have raised the issue of ‘misuse’ of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Despite the absence of any credible study or probe, agitators are alleging that a majority of atrocity cases are false. They want the law to be changed to avoid such apparent misuse, with a section even demanding its revocation.
The facts seem to give another picture altogether. The Maharashtra Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) cell, which collates data on atrocity cases in the state, has not received a single complaint of misuse of the Act.
“Unless there is some complaint or written communication from a person or institution and we are able to examine it, we can’t say if such a situation (misuse of Act) exists or no, but we have not received any complaint as yet,” Quaiser Khalid, inspector general, PCR, Maharashtra, told The Wire in an exclusive interview.
On the other hand, latest official data obtained under the RTI shows that till August 2016, Maharashtra recorded 1,281 and 273 cases of crimes against SCs and STs respectively for the current year. There were 142 rapes and 249 cases of outraging the modesty of women, and 33 murders of members of the SC community in the first eight months of 2016. In 2015, the number of reported cases of crimes against SCs and STs stood at 1,816 and 483 respectively, as per the National Crime Records Bureau.
Ahmednagar district, site of the gruesome Kopardi incident of gangrape and murder of a minor girl from the Maratha community, ranks first for the number of atrocities against SCs and STs together – 87 so far – followed by Yavatmal, where 82 cases were recorded.
“As far as we are concerned, no district has been declared as ‘atrocity-prone’,” Khalid said. “In Maharashtra, every year we register around 2.5 lakh cases. PoA cases constitute roughly 1% of the total number of cases filed. Going by the SC/ST population, the proportion of crime is pretty low, though of course, the absolute number of offences is also important. Maharashtra is a huge state, with a population of more than 12 crore. There is an increasing trend in the number of cases – a marginal increase, but it is fairly constant for overall crime also,” Khalid pointed out.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, in a television interview last month, talked about some misuse of the Act. However, his government has not issued any directions to the PCR cell to gather data on or examine alleged false cases.
“I would not say cases are false. There will be cases where no evidence was found or the evidence was weak. The legal classifications are – A final: accused could not be found; B final: not enough evidence to charge sheet the case; C final: the complaint is incorrect; or NC final: case does not fall in the category of cognisable offence but makes for a non-cognisable offence. The cases which are classified as B final are investigated by the local police or district commissionerate and a report is submitted to the court. The court may or may not agree,” he said.
Activists working on caste atrocity issues want Fadnavis to explain his statement. They want the state to bring out a white paper on atrocities that will probe the veracity of the allegations of misuse, to present a clear picture of the implementation of the Act. There are fears that a case is being built up to amend the Act.
Recently, the government issued 14 circulars on how to improve investigation, conviction rates and ensure quality investigation in general. For PoA cases, certain mechanisms have been expedited, such as the process of caste verification and the provision of protection to witnesses.
A low conviction rate was also cited as an indicator of misuse of the law. The PCR department is examining the reasons for the low number of convictions. Until August 2016, the conviction rate for crimes against SCs and STs was 6.43%.
According to Khalid, “We have devised a strategy on how to make the prosecution more effective. The government has already taken the decision to appoint special public prosecutors in cases of heinous crimes where the Atrocity Act is also applied, e.g. murder and rape. Conviction does not improve overnight. It takes time and a lot of effort. The cases which are being investigated right now are those that were begun two to five years ago. Conviction has improved in IPC sections. We are making efforts to improve conviction in PoA sections.”
“The Act makes provisions for establishing special exclusive courts. We have written to the government requesting the creation of more exclusive courts where only these matters will be heard. So it will take time. The law prescribes one exclusive court in every district or one court for a number of districts where the incidence of crime is low. We have proposed ten more courts. I am told the law and judiciary department is working to push this,” he added.