New Delhi: The government on Tuesday made it clear that it was not responsible for the dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and asserted that it was fully committed to protect the interest of the backward communities and appealed to the people to maintain peace and harmony.

Making a suo motu statement in Lok Sabha during the Zero Hour on the large scale violence during Monday’s Bharat Bandh, home minister Rajnath Singh said there has been widespread anger amongst the people following the 20 March order of the Supreme Court and the people have taken to the streets.

“I wish to inform the House that the Government of India was not party in that case. Through the House, I want to assure the people that there has been no dilution whatsoever by my government, rather after coming to power and examining the SC/ST prevention Atrocities Act, we have taken a decision to strengthen it," he said.

The Supreme Court had on 20 March “diluted" the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, ruling that government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens too, can be arrested only after an inquiry under the law. Opposing the verdict, several Dalit organisations had called for a nationwide strike on Monday in which violent incidents and blockades of roads and rail tracks were reported from several states.

Eight people were killed, including six in Madhya Pradesh and one each in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, during the bandh which witnessed clashes between the police and the protesters, arson and incidence of violence, the home minister said. Singh said there have been widespread rumours on the issue of reservation which were “false and baseless" and the government was fully committed to protect the interests of the SC/ST communities.

“I wish to assure you that our government is fully committed to the welfare of SCs and STs. Our government is fully committed to protect the interest of the SC/ST community," he said. The minister said immediately after the judgement of the Supreme Court, a decision was taken by the government to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. The Attorney General has made an appeal in the Supreme Court for an urgent hearing and the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the matter today itself.

“This shows the prompt action by the government and does not leave any doubt regarding the intention of the government to protect the interest of the SC/ST," he said. Singh said after the Supreme Court order on 20 March, within a span of only six working days, without losing any time and acting swiftly, the government has filed a review petition in the apex court.

“We have issued advisory to all the states to ensure that no breach of law and order takes place and safety of the lives of citizens and properties are ensured," he said. He said the central government has provided all assistance to the states immediately on their request and the Home Ministry is keeping a close vigil and is in constant touch with the state governments.

“Through this House, I appeal to all citizens to maintain peace and harmony amongst themselves. I also appeal to all the political parties to help maintain peace and harmony," he said. Flagging the efforts to strengthen the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the home minister said in 1995, the government had passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act.

As part of the amendment of SC/ST Act, new offences were added. It was observed that due to the delay in filing of the chargesheet, the victims or witnesses who were vulnerable were influenced and silenced. “In order to protect them, the provision of witness protection was introduced. The compensation payable to the victims was enhanced. There has been new provision where action against government servants shall be taken against those found negligent in implementing the Act," he said.