Three BJP-ruled states begin implementing controversial new SC/ST law

Written by Sabrangindia Staff | Published on: April 17, 2018
UPDATE
On Tuesday, April 17, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said that the police's formal order currently stands cancelled, and that the state government would appeal the Supreme Court's decision. "We have always been sensitive towards SCs & STs. The state government, just like Centre, will appeal against the decision of Supreme Court. Till then the order (to strictly implement the Supreme Court order) by Police headquarters stands cancelled," Singh said.
Even as the central government is reportedly mulling passing an ordinance "to restore the original provisions" of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, at least three BJP-ruled states have begun enforcing the new law as per the recent Supreme Court order. On March 20, the SC ruled that, arrests cannot be made under the law without obtaining prior permission, along with a host of other stipulations.

Dalit Protest
Image: The Tribune
 
Dalits and civil rights activists fear that the Supreme Court’s ruling weakens the law. Another potential option for the central government is reportedly a bill that may come up in the Parliament’s monsoon session to amend the SC/ST Act. The Centre, which has filed a review petition over the court’s order, has reportedly said that state governments "should not do anything by which the SC/ST Act is weakened or whittled down". 
 
Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh have handed out formal orders, directing police chiefs to act upon the Supreme Court’s order. Himachal Pradesh has informally disseminated the order to police officers, with DGP S. R. Mardi curiously saying he has only "circulated" the order on WhatsApp to senior police officers, but "no formal instructions have been issued." Haryana is seeking legal advice.
 
Rajasthan’s ADGP (Civil Rights), M. L. Lather, said that his office sent out a circular to all district police and commissionerates to implement the new guidelines in relevant cases a few days after the Supreme Court’s order. 
 
In Madhya Pradesh, ADGP (Scheduled Castes) Pragya Richa Shrivastava notified officials in charge of SC/ST police stations, districts, ranges, as well as government railway police regarding the Supreme Court order and directed them to comply with the guidelines. According to a senior officer, the guidelines did not require a notification as once the order was passed, it became law. The police headquarters was compelled to send out a circular as a case was reported in the state’s Damoh district following the Supreme Court order. Local police were not aware of the new order, and so adhered to the prevailing guidelines; however, the accused pointed to the new guidelines
 
In Chhattisgarh, Additional Director General of Police R. K. Vij, who sent out a circular to all SPs, refused to comment on Monday, April 16. However, a senior police officer said, "Once the Supreme Court issues directives, it is routine practice for the administration to issue orders to the lower rank and file to apprise them of what the Supreme Court has said. This has happened in changes of law of juvenile justice, rape and so on. The police are duty-bound to follow Supreme Court directives. If the Supreme Court were to review the changes, then of course the police would do so too." Chhattisgarh police issued a circular on April 6. 
 
Haryana’s DGP B. S. Sandhu said, "Although there is a Supreme Court verdict on the case, the Centre has also filed a review petition. Thus, I have forwarded the issue to ACS (Home), requesting him to seek legal opinion on the matter and advise us accordingly. So far, we have not implemented any change. As per standard practice, we do conduct a thorough probe in all such cases before arresting any accused." 
 
In Punjab, ruled by the Congress, the state welfare department has reportedly advanced the order’s file to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who hadn’t responded. On April 1, the Chief Minister’s office said in a statement that the government was "committed to the welfare of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes" and that Punjab’s Assembly "had sought the Centre’s intervention to legally pursue the case." In Congress-ruled Karnataka, where elections will be held next month, the order has been informally disseminated. Kerala, ruled by the CPI(M), has filed a separate review petition over the Supreme Court order, making it the only state to thus far challenge it. There, the police chief has just forwarded the order.