|Demand of the question|
Introduction. Contextual introduction.
Body. Discuss the role and issues related to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to curb violence against Dalits.
Conclusion. Way forward.
The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) is a constitutional body established by Article 338 of the Constitution. It is mandated to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It is often said that the commissions have not been effective in protecting the rights of Dalits in terms of ensuring the implementation of the safeguards. For instance, honour killings are still prevalent on a wide scale especially against Dalits.
Role of National Commission for Scheduled Castes to curb violence against Dalits:
- Investigation: It is the duty of commission to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and other legal safeguards for the SCs and to evaluate their working.
- Inquiry into rights: It is mandated to inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the SCs.
- Law implementation: The NCSC monitors the implementation of the various legal provisions in force regarding such occurrences.
- Collect Statistics: It collects and comments on the statistics pertaining to cases under the Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989.
- Special courts: A key monitoring activity performed by the Commission pertains to the setting up of special courts for the speedy trial of offences under the Civil Rights Act and the Atrocities Act.
- Monitor disposal rate: It also monitors the case disposal rates of these courts. Over the years, the Commission has conducted several on-the-spot inquiries into complaints of atrocities.
Issues related to the role of National Commission for Scheduled Castes:
- Non-binding recommendations: Atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes account for 89% of the crimes against SCs and STs combined. Even though the Commission has extensive powers of investigation and inquiry in this area and can fix responsibility and recommend action, its recommendations are not binding.
- Less sensitive: The existing priorities of the Commission are visibly lopsided in favour of the elite of these communities. Since the Commission, for the most part, acts on complaints, it is said that commission have been less than sensitive to the poor Dalits which are engendered by the lack of education or information. The Commission has not used its powers of suo motu cognisance actively enough.
- Litigation: In the matter of criminal investigation, that would require it to follow prevailing rules and procedures pertaining to evidence and prosecution. This retard the effectiveness of the commission by rendering it vulnerable to litigation in the form of appeals to higher judicial bodies and thereby nullifying its operational effectiveness.
- Delays: There are delays in conducting the inquiry and in delivering judgements. Moreover, there is a perception that the Commission tends to confirm the government’s position on most cases.
- Irregularity: The Commission is supposed to prepare an annual report for presentation to Parliament. Reports are often tabled two or more years after they have been submitted to the President. Even when Reports are tabled in Parliament, they are frequently not discussed.
- Proliferation: In many policy sectors, as in the case of the Scheduled Castes, the proliferation of institutions has created an institutional confusion in which the roles and powers of each are obfuscated. The duplication and multiplication of institutions has created more confusion.
- Additional powers: Commission should be given additional powers, in the matter of criminal investigation.
- Timely Discussion: The Annual Report is a crucial activity of the Commission, the importance of which is generally overlooked. An amendment is required either in Article 338 itself or in the rules by which the President may fix a period for the discussion of the Report in Parliament.
- Undertake studies: It would be appropriate for the Commission to undertake qualitative studies, commission social anthropologists and other social scientists to undertake such studies, and to institutionalize mechanisms by which contemporary changes and transitions in the social structure can be mirrored, recorded and acted upon.
- Database: There is a pressing need for reliable data on a variety of subjects like the experience of reserved constituencies in parliament as well as the state legislatures, etc. In this manner, the Commission would also become more responsive to societal issues like the changing context of untouchability and intra-group conflicts of interest, and contribute to debates in civil society.
- Appointment: A more thoroughly institutionalized mechanism for appointing the Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and other members, would be appropriate. As it has been observed that the leadership and personnel are key determinants of the Commission’s effectiveness.
- More sensitive: To counter elite biases, the Commission needs to be sensitive to the exclusions that the lack of education and information may engender, and should ideally use its suo motu powers more actively.
NCSC is mandated to curb violence against Dalits through various powers. It is desirable for the Commission to engage in an internal evaluation of its priorities on an ongoing basis and to redefine them in a substantively more egalitarian way so as to accomplish its mandate in the spirit in which it was intended.