October 9, 2010
SC Watchdog Headless – 82 Atrocities Daily
By Mukesh Jhangiani
United News of India
New Delhi (UNI) – While violations against India’s 180 million scheduled caste citizens have been on the rise, a government agency set up to investigate them has been headless over four months.
Experts say India’s Constitution prescribes a presidential appointment of Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson and three Members of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes but sets no time frame.
The NCSC chairmanship has been vacant since May 25, 2010, the vice-chairmanship and two memberships, since May 28, and another membership since May 29.
In the eyes of law, experts say, such a lapse makes the Commission ”non-functional.”
This is not the first time the posts have remained vacant since the NCSC was carved out of the 28-year-old National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in February 2004.
The NCSC chairmanship was vacant for more than nine months after incumbent Suraj Bhaan died in harness in August 2006. The other four posts, too, remained vacant for three months each.
Sanctioned posts remaining vacant is not unusual in India even in such crucial areas as judiciary, teaching, administration and so on.
Authorities have ignored suggestions about creating a pool of professionals from which candidates may be drawn for appointment without any delay or gap of more than a day or two.
But experts find allowing such vacancies in NCSC hard to explain given the United Progressive Alliance’s avowed commitment to social justice for weaker sections.
The issue has figured in Parliament as well as in the Supreme Court of India.
In Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Social Justice and Empowerment D Napoleon told Bharatiya Janata Party member from Madhya Pradesh Narayan Singh Kesari that its reconstitution ”is under process.”
That was on August 12, almost three months after vacancies had arisen.
Mr Napolean and MoS for Home Affairs Ajay Maken, in replies to Nationalist Congress Party’s Y P Trivedi from Maharashtra and BJP’s Om Prakash Mathur from Rajasthan, acknowledged a worsening trend.
Mr Maken cited National Crime Records Bureau data that ”a total of 27,070, 30,031 and 33,615 cases of atrocities against Scheduled Castes were registered during 2006-2008 respectively.”
Mr Napolean cited Bureau data that ”the number of registered cases of rape of women belonging to the Scheduled Castes during 2004 to 2008 is” 1157, 1172, 1217, 1349 and 1457, respectively.
On an average, that amounts to an atrocity every 17-18 minutes and a rape every seven hours during the years accounted for– even with a Commission in place.
Data furnished by Mr Maken showed that in 90,716 cases registered, 150,240 persons were chargesheeted, and 43,613 convicted.
But there was no word on the quantum of punishment awarded, if any, that may explain why law or enforcement has failed to produce a deterrent effect.
Last year, a British study suggested that not empowering the NCSCST to enforce its findings has resulted in a failure to punish and deter violations.
The study was sponsored by the Centre for Research on Inequality, Human Security and Ethnicity within Oxford University and supported by the United Kingdom Department for International Development.
The CRISE study pointed to ”the lack of teeth for organisations like” the NCSCST which ”prevented oppressive social practices from being checked and severely punished.”
In July 2010, the apex court was petitioned by a lawyer handling cases of alleged harassment of SC citizens who wanted the government directed to fill the posts as per Article 338 of the Constitution.
In a civil writ petition, advocate Radhakanta Tripathy told the Court he ”has been witnessing the plight” of clients ”since the matters cannot be decided without chairperson and other members.”
He also stressed setting a time frame for future appointments.
At a hearing on August 2, 2010, Justices D K Jain and H L Dattu requested Attorney General G E Vahanvati present in Court ”to seek instructions in the matter.”
Eight weeks later, on September 27, 2010, the Judges disposed of the petition after a government lawyer submitted: ”all appointments in the National Commission for Scheduled Castes shall be made within two months from today.”
UNI MJ NK 1437
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