The amended Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules were recently notified. The major amendments to the principle act include addition of new offences of atrocities, rationalization of payment of relief amount, establishment of exclusive special courts, etc.
The Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, 1989 was amended recently to include new offences and to ensure speedy justice to victims. The amendments to the Act were originally issued as an ordinance by the previous UPA government in March 2014. The NDA government has now got the amendments passed in both the houses of Parliament. Subsequent to the amendments, certain changes became necessary to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995. The said rules are now modified and were notified on 14th April, 2016.
Major amendments to the rules
There has been a demand to amend the existing PoA act to include more offences and to ensure relief & speedy justice to the victims.
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The following major changes have been made now via the amendment
- Rationalization of the phasing of relief amount payment to victims for various offences of atrocities. The rules also specify relief amount for various offences of atrocities.
- Not linking payment of any part of relief amount with the requirement of medical examination for non-invasive kind of offences against women like sexual harassment, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty, to disrobe, voyeurism, stalking etc.
- Provision of relief for offences of rape and gang rape.
- Increase in the existing quantum of relief amount depending upon the nature of the offence, while linking it with the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers
New Offences of Atrocities
The following new offences have been added to the list of atrocities
- Tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of members of SCs & STs
- Garlanding with Chappals
- Denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights
- Dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or to dig graves, using or permitting manual scavenging
- Dedicating a SC/ST woman as Devadasi
- Abusing in caste name, perpetrating witchcraft atrocities
- Imposing social or economic boycott
- Preventing SC/ST candidates from filing of nomination to contest elections
- Hurting a SC/ST woman by removing her garments
- Forcing a member of SC/ST to leave house , village or residence
- Defiling objects sacred to members SCs/STs
- Touching or using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature against members of SCs/STs
Exclusive Special Courts for Speedy Justice
The amendments to the act also mandate establishment of exclusive Special Courts and appointment of Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors to try the offences under this act. This is made to enable speedy justice and expeditious disposal of cases.
The Special Courts have been authorized to take direct cognizance of offence and as far as possible, completion of trial of the case within two months, from the date of filing of the charge sheet.
The State Governments have been asked to prepare a panel of senior advocates who have been in practice for not less than seven years for each District, for conducting the cases filed under this Act.
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The State Governments have also been asked to review the performance of these advocates at least twice in a calendar year. They are also asked to review various reports received, investigation made and preventive steps taken by the District Magistrate, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and Superintendent of Police, relief and rehabilitation facilities provided to the victims etc.
Enhancement in Relief Amount
The norms for relief amount have also been rationalized including enhancement of the relief amount for certain offences. Relief amount in case of certain offences are
- Rs 85,000 to the victim in case of offences like Prevention from voting, filing nomination, Forcing, intimidating or obstructing a holder of office of Panchayat or Municipality from performing duties etc.
- Rs 5,00,000 to the victim in case of rape and Rs 8,25,000 in case of gang rape
- Rs 8,25,000 in case of murder
- Rs 1,00,000 in case of imposition or threatening a social or economic boycott
- Rs 1,00,000 in case of preventing a SC/ST entering any place of worship which is open to the public etc
A new chapter on the ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’ has also been added to the act. The term ‘willful negligence’ of public servants at all levels, starting from the registration of complaint, and covering aspects of dereliction of duty under this Act has been clearly defined.
Presumption to the offences has been added to the act, i.e., If the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.