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Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014 wasintroduced in the Lok Sabha by the Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment, Mr. Thaawar Chand Gehlot on July 16, 2014. 
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 was passed by Lok Sabha on August 4, 2015 and was passed by Rajya Sabha on December 21, 2015. The 2015 Amendment Act received the assent of the President on December 31, 2015.
The 2015 Amendment aims to prohibit the commission of offences against members of the SCs and STs and adds provisions for establishing special courts for the trial cases of such offences and the rehabilitation of victims.

New Definitions added:
(bb) “dependent” means the spouse, children, parents, brother and sister of the victim, who are dependent wholly or mainly on such victim for his support and maintenance.

(bc) “economic boycott” means–
(i) a refusal to deal with, work for hire or do business with other person; or
(ii) to deny opportunities including access to services or contractual opportunities for rendering service for consideration; or
(iii) to refuse to do anything on the terms on which things would be commonly done in the ordinary course of business; or
(iv) to abstain from the professional or business relations that one would maintain with other person;

(bd) “Exclusive Special Court” means the Exclusive Special Court established under sub-section (1) of section 14 exclusively to try the offences under this Act;

(be) “forest rights” shall have the meaning assigned to it in sub-section (1) of section 3 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006;

(bf) “manual scavenger” shall have the meaning assigned to it in clause (g) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013;

(bg) “public servant” means a public servant as defined under section 21 of the Indian Penal Code, as well as any other person deemed to be a public servant under any other law for the time being in force and includes any person acting in his official capacity under the Central Government or the State Government, as the case may be;

(ea) “Schedule” means the Schedule appended to this Act;

(eb) “social boycott” means a refusal to permit a person to render to other person or receive from him any customary service or to abstain from social relations that one would maintain with other person or to isolate him from others;

(ec) “victim” means any individual who falls within the definition of the ‘‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes’’ under clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 2, and who has suffered or experienced physical, mental, psychological, emotional or monetary harm or harm to his property as a result of the commission of any offence under this Act and includes his relatives, legal guardian and legal heirs;

(ed) “witness” means any person who is acquainted with the facts and circumstances, or is in possession of any information or has knowledge necessary for the purpose of investigation, inquiry or trial of any crime involving an offence under this Act, and who is or may be required to give information or make a statement or produce any document during investigation, inquiry or trial of such case and includes a victim of such offence;’;

New offences added (Amendment in section 3):
(i) Garlanding SCs and STs with footwear
(ii) Compelling to do manual scavenging or dispose carry animal or human carcasses.
(iii) Abusing SCs/STs in public by caste name
(iv) Disrespecting any deceased SCs/STs person held in high esteem or attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs/STs
(v) Threatening or imposing economic and social boycott.

Offences in case of sexual exploiting of SC or ST woman: It will be considered as an offence in case of
(i) Using acts, words or gestures of a sexual nature against SC/ST woman.
(ii) Touching an SC/ST woman intentionally in a sexual manner without her consent
(iii) Practice of dedicating an SC/ST woman as a devadasi to a temple.

Forcing an SC or ST individual to vote or not vote for a particular candidate in a manner that is against the law is an offence under the Act.  Wrongfully occupying land belonging to SCs or STs is an offence under the Act.

Exclusive Special Court - The Act specifies that an Exclusive Special Court must be established at the district level to try offences under the Act.  In districts with fewer cases, a Special Court may be established to try offences.  An adequate number of courts must be established to ensure that cases are disposed of within two months.  Appeals of these courts shall lie with the high court, and must be disposed of within three months.  A Public Prosecutor and Exclusive Public Prosecutor shall be appointed for every Special Court and Exclusive Special Court respectively.

Role of public servants:  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.  The Act specifies these duties, including: (a) registering a complaint or FIR, (b) reading out information given orally, before taking the signature of the informant and giving a copy of this information to the informant, etc.

Rights of victims and witnesses (Chapter IV-A):  The Act adds a chapter on the rights of victims and witness.  It shall be the duty of the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their dependents and witnesses.  The state government shall specify a scheme to ensure the implementation of rights of victims and witnesses.

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