Was the SC right on the anti-atrocities law?
‘Skill India’ urgently needs reforms
Was the SC right on the anti-atrocities law?
Synoptic line: It throws light on issue of the recent amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
(GS paper II)
- The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, or the SC/ST Act protects the marginalised communities against discrimination and atrocities. However, with the recent Supreme Court ruiling, there should be no immediate arrest of public servants under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act gained protests; it turned violent in some parts of the country.
Assessment of the Act
- The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is popularly known as POA, the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act. The SC/ST Act was enacted on September 9, 1989.
- The SC/ST Act lists 22 offences relating to various patterns or behaviours inflicting criminal offences and breaking the self-respect and esteem of the scheduled castes and tribes community. This includes denial of economic, democratic and social rights, discrimination, exploitation and abuse of the legal process.
- According to the SC/ST Act, the protection is provided from social disabilities such as denial of access to certain places and to use customary passage, personal atrocities like forceful drinking or eating of inedible food sexual exploitation, injury etc, and atrocities affecting properties, malicious prosecution, political disabilities and economic exploitation.
- The recent Supreme Court ruling on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is clear in intent and is nothing new. Though it is a fact that there are a few people today who misuse the very law that was enacted to protect them.
- And if someone is misusing the law to level a false charge, what can possibly be wrong in saying that the complaint has to be verified at the preliminary stage by a preliminary committee before a formal charge can be made? And this is exactly what the Supreme Court has said.
- If a complaint is registered under the said Act, without verifying the facts of a case, isn’t one going against the very principles of natural justice? Shouldn’t every citizen get a fair opportunity to defend herself? But having said that, it is also a fact that investigating officers do not take cognisance of complaints filed by Dalits and Adivasis. Therefore, let me add that cases must be registered against erring police officers who have either delayed or avoided filing a complaint.
- As for figures, charge sheets are filed in 77% of the cases filed. To my knowledge and following our discussions in Parliament, in 2014, about 40,000 cases were registered under the Act; in 2015, there was a slight drop; and in 2016, the figures were similar to the 2014 figures. There was a need for the court to step in so that unwarranted cases are not registered and innocent people are not implicated.
- The reason behind the low conviction, which is 15%, is because cases are registered without proper investigation and a simple accusation leads to an FIR which does not stand scrutiny in a court of law. This exercise is a way to harass people and is a complete waste of time of both the police and the court.
- Every time there is a fight or a dispute in rural pockets, it is given a caste angle and someone or the other gets implicated under the Atrocities Act.
- The case in question was in response to an appeal from the Director of Technical Education against whom a Dalit employee had filed a case under the SCs and the STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for denying him permission to prosecute the officer who was primarily charged for committing an atrocity. The court could have accepted his appeal and quashed the case.
- Instead, it went beyond that and added conditions for admissibility of atrocity cases which amounted to rewriting the Act, thus defying all canons of objectivity and judicial propriety. The judgment effectively neutralises the Act which provided some sense of protection to hapless people against oppressive societal prejudices. The reluctance of the ruling establishment in implementing the “Act with teeth” is evident from the fact that its implementation came in 1995, after a delay of six years.
- About 75% of the population, especially women and the marginalised, avoid reporting a crime as they feel frustrated and unhappy with the way cops behave with complainants. It is only following pressure from activists that complaints of atrocities get into the police register.
- Even after the registration of a complaint, it has to pass through prejudicial barriers police investigation, the indulgence of the prosecution, and the judicial verdict. The acquittal of culprits has become the norm. There are studies, such as one by the Centre for Social Justice, Ahmedabad, which have exposed how cases of atrocities result in acquittal due to the anti-Dalit attitude of the law enforcement.
- The Supreme Court judgment, delivered on March 20, in the Subhash K. Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra stretches both law and logic to unbelievable levels. The court has held that the SCs and the STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is being abused to falsely implicate innocent non-SCs/STs in criminal litigation and such abuse is “rampant”.
- The conclusion prompted the court to issue guidelines to defend the victims of misuse of the Act. The rationale is obvious: discrimination suffered by the SCs/STs is an exception while the abuse of the Act enacted to protect them is the rule. The court also found it “necessary to express concern that working of the Atrocities Act should not result in perpetuating casteism” and cited B.R. Ambedkar to fortify its logic.
- The court didn’t even consider the Atrocities Act within the framework of fundamental rights. It cited a plethora of case laws on due process but didn’t mention Article 17, a fundamental right, which not only abolished untouchability but remains the fount of all special laws (including the Atrocities Act) for the welfare of SCs/STs. The omission is glaring. The court has invoked the fundamental rights of an accused under Articles 14 and 21, and overlooked the fact that Article 17 is meant to help SCs/STs enjoy basic citizenship.
Question – Was the SC right on the anti-atrocities law, discuss your opinion?
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of Sri Lanka surviving the no-trust vote.
(GS paper II)
- The resounding defeat of a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in Sri Lanka’s parliament provides an opportunity for its bickering leaders to reassess their priorities. However, it may not end the prevailing political uncertainty as the three-way competition among President Maithripala Sirisena, Mr. Wickremesinghe and their common rival, former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, is likely to continue.
- The confidence of parliament has been numerically settled in favour of the Prime Minister now, with Tamil and Muslim parties backing him in the crucial vote, but in electoral terms the question of political supremacy is still open. For nearly two months, the power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Wickremesinghe’s United National Party and President Maithripala Sirisena’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party has been unravelling.
- Their national unity government came under strain after both parties, contesting separately, lost to a party backed by Mr. Rajapaksa in local body elections in February. Mr. Sirisena held Mr. Wickremesinghe responsible for the debacle, seeing in the results an expression of public anger against the government’s poor performance on the economic front and a bond scandal in the central bank helmed by the Prime Minister’s appointee as governor.
- A sudden outbreak of communal violence targeting Muslims last month worsened the political situation. The ‘Joint Opposition’ consisting of loyalists of Mr. Rajapaksa moved the no-confidence motion, despite lacking the numbers needed to bring down Mr. Wickremesinghe, citing the bond scam and the sectarian violence as major grounds.
- The aim was obvious: to deepen the wedge between the President and the Prime Minister, in the hope that some of the SLFP members now in the ranks of the government would abandon Mr. Wickremesinghe, and that he would face a leadership tussle within the UNP.
- The fear of a return to the days of Mr. Rajapaksa’s political dominance possibly deterred more members from joining the bandwagon. With the no-confidence motion out of their way, there ought to be some recognition that matters of far greater import await attention. The local body poll results have given sufficient indication of the people’s concerns over the economy and unemployment. Investigation into past crimes and corruption seems to be slow.
- Sri Lanka has made a commitment to the international community that it would promote accountability and reconciliation as part of its post-war transformation. This needs the President and the Prime Minister to work together, de-emphasising their political differences.
Question – Discuss the ongoing political turmoil in Sri-Lanka, and explain whether the Sri Lankan government need to reboot itself or not?
‘Skill India’ urgently needs reforms
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of need for skill India need to ripe demographic dividend.
(GS paper III)
- The Government of India in 2016, has formed the Sharada Prasad Committee to rationalise the Sector Skill Councils (SSCs), which are employer bodies mostly promoted by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry and other industry associations, and improve ‘Skill India’.
- The committee submitted its report in 2016. Now over a year later, it may be prudent to look at the reforms it suggested and action taken in the vocational education/training (VET) system.
- Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) is the flagship scheme of the Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE). The objective of this Skill Certification Scheme is to enable a large number of Indian youth to take up industry-relevant skill training that will help them in securing a better livelihood.
- Individuals with prior learning experience or skills will also be assessed and certified under Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL). Under this Scheme, Training and Assessment fees are completely paid by the Government.
- It suggests concrete steps to ensure a mindset change, such as having a separate stream for vocational education (in secondary education), creating vocational schools and vocational colleges for upward mobility, and having a Central university to award degrees and diplomas.
- Streaming would mean that the ‘diploma disease’, which is resulting in growing tertiary enrolment along with rising unemployment among the educated, would be stemmed. China, for instance, has such a separate stream after nine years of compulsory schooling, and half the students choose VET at the senior secondary level (after class nine).
- This requires a serious engagement of employers. Private vocational training providers (VTPs) that mushroomed as private industrial training institutes (ITIs) and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC)-financed short-term training providers are no substitute for industry-employer engagement with each pillar of the VET ecosystem: secondary schools; ITIs, public and private; NSDC-funded VTPs; ministries that train, and firms that conduct enterprise-based training.
- The second recurring theme is the realisation of human potential. This means aligning the courses to international requirements, ensuring a basic foundation in the 3Rs, and life-long learning. It implies national standards for an in-demand skill set with national/global mobility that translates into better jobs. Short duration courses (with no real skills) that provide low pay for suboptimal jobs cannot be called national standards. Hence the current national standards have to drastically improve.
- No skill development can succeed if most of the workforce lacks the foundation to pick up skills in a fast-changing world. Vocational training must by definition be for a minimum of a year, which includes internship (without which certification is not possible). Short-term training should be confined to recognising prior learning of informally trained workers who are already working.
- The third theme is to do what is right when no one is watching you, because, as in other industries, the regulator has displayed a limited capacity to regulate. Cases of a conflict of interests, of rigged assessments and of training happening only on paper are not new.
- The Sharada Prasad Committee had recommended that the number of SSCs should correspond to the National Industrial (Activity) Classification (which has 21 economic activities across the entire economy), but which is still way larger than Australia’s six. Little has happened except for the number of SSCs dropping from 40 to 39.
- The first policy step should be towards a unification of the entire VET system. What we have today are fragmented pillars. Each of the five pillars does what it wants to, with no synergy. An NSDC-centric focus has left the skill development efforts of 17 ministries out of the same scrutiny.
- ‘Skill India’ can have an impact only when all of them work together and learn from each other. SSCs, which are supposedly industry representatives, should be engaging themselves with each pillar of the system, and not just NSDC-funded VTPs.
- The second step is to enhance employer ownership, responsibility and their ‘skin in the game’. Media reports often highlight the corporate sector lamenting about “unemployable youth”. The private sector places the onus on the government, treating it as a welfare responsibility, while the government looks to the private sector since it is the end consumer of skills. The result is that only 36% of India’s organised sector firms conduct in-firm training (mostly large ones, which are also the only ones that take on apprentices under a Government of India Act).
- In this regard the committee’s recommendation of a reimbursable industry contribution model (applicable only to the organised sector) should solve the perennial problem of poaching while providing a common level field.
- It could ensure reimbursements for those companies undertaking training while rewarding industry for sharing and undertaking skilling until everyone in the company is skilled. This will lay the foundation for making at least our organised workforce 100% skilled. The third policy step is in getting the government to recognise that decades have been spent in building a government-financed and managed, and hence supply-driven system
- The One such role is to have surveys, once every five years, through the National Sample Survey Office, to collect data on skill providers and skill gaps by sector. Such data can guide evidence-based policy-making, as against the current approach of shooting in the dark.
- We need more reflection from stakeholders on the actual value addition done by the skilling initiative. The NSDC, which was envisioned as a public-private partnership, receives 99% of its funding from government, but its flagship scheme has a less than 12% record of placement for trainees. The NSQF framework has seen little adoption in private sector.
- And, more than two-thirds of courses developed have not trained even one student so far. India can surely become the world’s skill capital but not with what it is doing right now. The reforms suggested by the committee can be a good starting point for we cannot let another generation lose its dreams.
Question – There is no way the country can reap its demographic dividend without fixing vocational education. Analyse.