Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan on Sunday said the Centre is committed to protecting the rights of Dalits and it will not allow the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to be diluted. The Union consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister said that the government has options, including bringing an Ordinance, if the Supreme Court judgement on the Centre’s review petition is unfavorable.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 “diluted” the provisions of the Act, ruling that government servants should not be arrested without prior sanction and private citizens, too, be arrested only after an inquiry under the law. Opposing the verdict, several Dalit organisations had called for a ‘Bharat bandh’ recently, in which violent incidents and blockades of roads and rail tracks were reported from several states.
“We are ready with all our options…The day the judgement (by the Supreme Court) is delivered and if it comes against us, then an Ordinance will be put up in the Cabinet the very next day for a decision (in order to protect the Act in its original form),” Paswan, who belongs to the Dalit community, told reporters at Patna. Paswan, however, exuded confidence that the apex court judgement will retain the original provisions of the Act.
Referring to “poor or negligible” representation of SCs and STs in the Supreme Court and high courts, he said, “There is not a single judge in the apex court while the number of judges in high courts is negligible (from SC and ST category).” He advocated an all India judicial service for appointment of judges in the higher judiciary. Paswan also said his Lok Janshakti Party would organise functions at the block level on April 20 to thank Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for extending Mahadalit benefits to the Paswans.
With the announcement, the confusion over the distinction between Dalits and Mahadalits has been “completely wiped out”, he said. Kumar had on Saturday announced that all schemes for Mahadalits in the state will now be extended to the SC and ST categories.