6:46 am - Sunday November 8, 2015

SC/ST Amendment bill sent to standing committee

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A Bill that makes it a punishable offence for public servants to “wilfully neglect” duties on matters relating to atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Tribes was referred to a Standing Committee by the Lok Sabha amid strong objections by the Congress that wanted the Bill to be taken up immediately.

The Congress’ contention is that since the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014, replaces an Ordinance there is no precedent for sending it to the Standing Committee. The Ordinance was promulgated in March this year by the then United Progressive Alliance government.

Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan referred the Bill to the Standing Committee amid disruptions by the Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Nationalist Congress Party MPs, who were demanding an immediate response from Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on journalist Ved Pratap Vaidik’s controversial meeting with Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed.

Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot, who stood up to move the Bill, looked uncertain due to the Opposition protests, but when the Speaker told him to send it to the Standing Committee, he said he would go by her orders.

Ms. Mahajan overruled all objections, saying she would not change what had already taken place. The Bill replaces an Ordinance that states that if a non-SC/ST public servant wilfully neglects duties required to be performed under this Act, he or she shall be punished with imprisonment for a term from six months to one year. The Bill also makes provisions for States to set up special courts to try offences under the Act.

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