MP CM Chouhan Moves to Dilute SC/ST Act After Protests by Upper Castes

The Supreme Court, on March 20 this year, had placed safeguards on the provisions for immediate arrest under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

In a move aimed at placating protesting upper caste groups in his poll-bound state, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Thursday announced he will ensure that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is “not misused and no one will be arrested before an investigation.

Chauhan’s announcement came on a day when several upper-caste organisations held protests in different parts of the state against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill 2018 which was passed by Parliament in August. They also gheraoed the chief minister’s residence, barged into PWD minister Rampal Singh’s bungalow and showed black flags in front of Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) offices.

Chouhan tweeted: “MP mein nahi hoga SC-ST Act ka durupyog, bina jaanch ke nahi hogi giraftari (MP will not allow misuse of the SC/ST Act, no one will be arrested without an investigation).”

The chief minister’s announcement contradicts the promise he made to SC employees two years ago, when he said, “No mai ka lal can end reservation” and gave an undertaking expressing the government’s commitment to reservation in promotions.

The Indian Express reported Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Bhupendra Gupta as saying that Chouhan’s latest announcement “exposed the double standards of the BJP.” Chauhan, the Congress leader said, was earlier guilty of contempt of court” for his ‘mai ka lal’ comment and was now “insulting Parliament and the Constitution.”

Hiralal Trivedi, patron of the Samanya Pichhra Alpasankhyak Kalyan Samaj (SAPAKS) leading the protest against the Act, called Chouhan’s announcement an “eyewash, News18 reported. “The CM is trying to fool people with his statement,” he said, adding that they would continue with the struggle against the Act.

Bramha Samagam Sawarna Jankalyan Samaj convener Prahlad Shukla Thursday said protesters took out a rally from Ganesh Mandir near Habibganj Railway Station, on their way to CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s residence, but the police stopped them midway.

He said that protesters lay down on the roads and shouted slogans against the amendments, adding that there was a minor scuffle between police and some of the protesters.

He claimed that several protesters managed to get to the gates of the BJP and Congress offices and waved black flags.

Shukla claimed that Bramha Samagam Sawarna Jankalyan Samaj president Dharmendra Sharma was manhandled by police and suffered injuries outside PWD Minister Rampal Singh’s home.

Superintendent of Police (SP), Bhopal South, Rahul Kumar Lodha, however, denied the allegations and stated that no person was arrested in connection with the protests.

The Supreme Court had in March this year passed an order ensuring some ‘safeguards’ for public servants. The apex court ruled that there cannot be a complete ban on anticipatory bail in cases related to SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and that police must conduct a preliminary investigation before arresting the accused. A two-judge bench of justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit was examining whether there can be procedural safeguards so that provisions of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) (SC/ST) Act 1989 are not abused for extraneous considerations.

Dalit groups protested the judgement, attacking buses and government property, and blocking trains and roads across states including Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab and Bihar. Nine people were killed during the protests.

Faced with the huge backlash, the Narendra Modi government then moved the Supreme Court seeking a review of its judgement. Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad was quoted by the Hindustan Times as saying the government was not party to the SC decision on the SC/ST Act and, “with due respect, does not agree with the reasoning by the apex court.”

“On behalf of the Ministry of Social Justice, a very comprehensive review has been filed (against the dilution of the SC/ST Act),” he had said.

The parliament on August 9 passed a Bill to overturn a Supreme Court order restricting the Prevention of Atrocities Act. The amendment overturned the dilution and restored the original provisions.

Apart from his own statements made earlier, Chouhan’s move contradicts the amendment passed by the central government as well.

(With PTI inputs)