On 23rd April 2018, the Human Rights Advocacy and Research Foundation (“HRF”) held a Strategic Multi-Actor Round Table (SMART) 2018 to discuss issues related to strengthening the implementation of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (“Act”) and Rules in Tamil Nadu and release of the Status Report on the implementation of the Act in Tamil Nadu, in 2015 and 2016.
The Round Table saw participation from various stakeholders such as Dalit rights groups, Dalit women’s rights groups, tribal groups and representatives from the Tamil Nadu Police, from various districts in Tamil Nadu. The event was presided over by Former Secretary to the Government of India, Mr P S Krishnan. The focus of the Round Table, in addition to the release of the Status Report for 2015 and 2016, was to engage in a constructive dialogue on the atrocities committed against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, on whether any amendments are required in the Act and to discuss ways to improve the implementation of the Act, particularly in the background of the recent decision of the Supreme Court in Subash Kashinath Mahajan v State of Maharashtra & Anr.
The Status Report released by HRF was based on a detailed analysis of the data collected from the Government of Tamil Nadu regarding atrocities committed against the members of Scheduled Cases and Scheduled Tribes. For instance one finding in the Status Report was that in 2016, in 6 districts in Tamil Nadu including Chennai, investigation was not completed on even a single complaint / FIR filed under the Act. This despite the Act clearly providing that investigation of an offence is to be completed within a period of 60 days. Further, the Status Report noted that ‘Special Courts’ as mandated by the Act have been established only in 6 out of 32 districts in Tamil Nadu despite the requirement under the Act that a Special Court be appointed in each district in the State. Further, in the 21 years of the implementation of the Act, only 3 meetings of the State Vigilance and Monitoring Committee (“SVMC”) have been conducted in Tamil Nadu. The Key Findings of the Status Report may be accessed here.
Subsequent to the presentation of the Status Report, the views of the various stakeholders were gathered. It was suggested that periodical training of judges, on the various special legislations should be held through judicial academies,. In addition, it was recommended that applications under the Right to Information Act, 2005 ought to be made more regularly and the framework must be better utilised to the benefit of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community. It was also pointed out that not enough cases are taken up against public servants for dereliction of duties even when there is evidence of the same. Finally, while noting that the District Collector of a district is overburdened, there was consensus that apart from the mechanisms laid down under the Act for monitoring the progress of cases and the implementation of the Act, a monitoring committee could also be established. This committee, comprising of the people in the respective district, would identify issues regarding the implementation of the Act and bring raise them with the relevant authorities on a regular basis. The meeting was concluded with the agreement that the attendees from the various districts would take up a few cases to be monitored and tracked in the coming year, to ensure that the provisions of the Act were complied with and to provide support to the victims and their families.