New Delhi: Anger continues to simmer among Dalits, weeks after thousands hit the streets to protest against a Supreme Court order that allegedly diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. A look at what the order on the SC/ST Act is about and what its political impact has been.

What did the Supreme Court verdict say?

On 20 March, the Supreme Court interpreted certain provisions regarding automatic arrests made on complaints under provisions of the SC/ST Act.

According to the ruling, a government officer could now be arrested only after approval from the appointing authority. For others, the senior superintendent of police would have to give approval.

How did the ruling come about?

The ruling was passed by a bench of justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit on an appeal filed by Subhash Kashinath Mahajan against a Bombay high court ruling that refused to quash the FIR lodged against him for offences alleged under the SC/ST Act.

What was the Supreme Court’s motivation?

The primary objective was to “avoid false implication of an innocent person". The court has clarified that it was not trying to stand in the way of the rights of SC/ST people and was trying to ensure that the liberty of the accused is not taken away without due procedure.

Why is the SC/ST Act ruling problematic?

In the face of growing atrocities against SCs/STs, aggrieved persons may now think twice before registering a complaint, as the process is backed by checks which prevent the automatic arrest of an accused. The criticism is that the changes, which focus on protecting the liberty of the accused, can dilute the rights of the complainant.

Where does the case stand today? Can the government do anything?

The centre has filed a review petition that is pending in the Supreme Court before the same judges who passed the order. The centre says that the judgement has diluted the provisions of the SC/ST Act, resulting in great damage. It is also considering options including promulgating an ordinance to override the ruling and restore the original provisions. Kerala has also approached the court with a separate review petition.

What has been the political fallout?

This was among the reasons over which the government and opposition locked horns in the budget session. While Dalit organizations and opposition parties have organized nationwide protests, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has tried to assure the Dalit and tribal community that the government will protect their rights.

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