Dalit protestors during an agitation in April. (Source: PTI)

Cabinet Approves Bill To Overturn Supreme Court Order On Dalit Atrocities Law

The Union Cabinet approved a bill to restore original provisions of a law preventing atrocities against people of scheduled castes and tribes, a move seen as a reach-out to Dalits by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government days ahead of their proposed nationwide protest on August 9.

The bill rules out any provision for an anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes, notwithstanding any court order. It also provides that no preliminary enquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.

Dalit groups have been asking the government to overturn a Supreme Court ruling of March 20, saying it had “diluted” and rendered the law “toothless” against atrocities faced by the weakest sections of the society. Their nationwide protest on April 20 had turned violent in several states, leaving at least 12 dead. A call has been given for another ‘Bharat Bandh’ on August 9 with several opposition parties also offering support.

Terming the bill “historic”, union minister Ram Vilas Paswan told reporters that a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill and it is likely to be tabled in Parliament during the ongoing session.

The BJP hopes that the government’s decision will defuse anger among Dalits and tribals, while boosting its efforts to win over majority of them as it gears up for assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh later this year and then the Lok Sabha election next year.

Paswan had emerged as a key voice within the government seeking a new law to overturn the court’s order. That had left many to wonder if his Lok Janshakti Party was drifting away from the BJP over Dalit issues ahead of Lok Sabha elections.

The LJP president, however, asserted that “all issues are closed” now and heaped praise on Modi for his several pro-Dalit measures. It is not clear whether other Dalit groups would go ahead with the nationwide protest planned for August 9.