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SC/ST Atrocities Act key features

SC/ST Atrocities Act key features
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SC/ST Atrocities Act Key Features. Article 17 of the Constitution states that untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden and the enforcement of any disability arriving out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.

(This article discusses the provisions related to the abolition of untouchability and titles in the Constitution and brings out the key features of the SC and ST Atrocities Act, enacted to enforce the abolition of Untouchability)

SC/ST Atrocities Act Key Features.

Article 17 of the Constitution states that untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden and the enforcement of any disability arriving out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. The objective of this article is to end inhuman practice of treating fellow human beings as untouchable and dirty by reason of their birth in certain castes. The Constitution, however, did not define Untouchability. According to a definition given by the Supreme Court, the word untouchability refers to the social disability imposed on certain classes by reason of their birth and doesn’t cover social boycott based on conduct. The Supreme Court also stated that the Fundamental Right under Article 17 is available against private individuals and it is a Constitutional duty of the state to take measures to ensure that this right is not violated.

Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955 was the first legislation passed by the Parliament to prevent practice of Untouchability and punish people for practicing it. To broaden its scope and provide for stringent punishment, it was amended and renamed as the Civil Rights Act in 1976. However, the law was found to be inadequate to check and deter crimes against them committed by non-SCs and non-STs. It is considered necessary that not only the term 'atrocity' should be defined, but also stringent measures should be introduced to provide for higher punishment for committing such atrocities. Therefore a more comprehensive and punitive piece of legislation called The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 was enacted.

Features of the Act:

The Act prohibits the commission of offences against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SCs and STs) and establishes special courts for the trial of such offences and the rehabilitation of victims.

The Act outlines actions (by non SCs and non STs) against SCs or STs to be treated as offences.

Under the Act, a Court of Session at the district level is deemed a Special Court to provide speedy trials for offences. A Special Public Prosecutor is appointed to conduct cases in this court.

The Act specifies that a non SC or ST public servant who neglects his duties relating to SCs or STs shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term of six months to one year.

Investigation of an offence committed under the SC/ST Act cannot be investigated by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP)

Punishments under the Act are graded depending on the severity of the offence and range from six months to life imprisonment with fine. For certain offences the Act also provides for capital punishment and confiscation of property. Repeated offences under the Act attract enhanced punishments.

Article 18 deals with abolition of titles. Title is something that is added to one’s name. During the British rule conforming titles by the British Government resulted in creation of a separate class among the people. This goes against Right to Equality guaranteed under the Article 14. Therefore the Constitution through Article 18 seems to prevent such a class divide by prohibiting the State from conferring titles on individuals.

The Article has the four clauses.

Article 18 (1) - prohibits the State from conferring titles

Article 18 (2) - prohibits citizens from accepting titles from foreign nation

Article 18 (3) – prohibits any foreigner working under the Government from accepting titles from a foreign country without prior permission from the President

Article 18 (4) - prohibits any person working under the state from accepting any title / office / job from a foreign country without prior permission from the President

The Supreme Court, in its judgment in a case, held that the awards Bharat Ratna, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Shri which are called National awards don’t amount to the meaning of title under Article 18 (1) and should not be used as prefixes or suffixes to one’s name; if this is done than the defaulter should return the National award conferred on him or her.

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