Silence greets judge quota call

Congress President Rahul Gandhi and CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury at a Dalit rally at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi on Thursday. Picture by Prem Singh

New Delhi: Parliament on Thursday passed amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, with the government preferring silence on a cross-party demand for reservation in the higher judiciary.

Opposition members demanded the inclusion of the amended act in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution to give it greater protection against legal scrutiny.

The Rajya Sabha has passed the amendments nearly five months after a Supreme Court judgment diluted two of the act's key provisions: automatic arrests and the denial of anticipatory bail.

The amendments, which the Lok Sabha had cleared last week, allow FIRs to be filed under the anti-atrocity law without any preliminary inquiry and arrests to be made without the requirement for permission.

Dalit groups had been protesting against the March 20 judgment, with even the government's own Dalit MPs and allies joining in.

Some Opposition members cited the delay in the bill's introduction to question the government's sincerity in protecting the interests of the socially deprived.

They also questioned the appointment of Justice (retd) A.K. Goel - one of the two judges who had passed the March 20 verdict - as chairperson of the National Green Tribunal immediately after his retirement last month.

"It's a matter of regret.... You rewarded him. You say something and do something else," Congress member Kumari Selja said.

Samajwadi Party member Ram Gopal Yadav said: "I appeal that a bench hearing a matter of social justice should have a judge from the deprived sections."

BJP member Kirodi Lal Meena objected to the collegium system of judges appointing judges, saying it "encourages nepotism - all appointments should be made under Indian judicial service".

Telangana Rashtra Samiti member K. Keshav Rao and CPI member D. Raja demanded reservation in the higher judiciary.

Shiv Sena member Sanjay Raut, however, quoted the apex court judgment to say that instances of misuse of the anti-atrocity law abounded. He demanded some protection for those accused in false cases.

Reservation expert P.S. Krishnan told this newspaper the idea of an Indian judicial service was mooted decades ago but not implemented. Such a service would entail judges' recruitment at the district level and promotion to the high courts and the Supreme Court on the basis of their performance. There would be reservations in entry-level appointments.

"The demand for an Indian judicial service is justified. Today there is no Supreme Court judge from the SC or ST communities. Their representation is abysmal in the high courts," Krishnan said.

Social justice minister Thaawar Chand Gehlot said the Narendra Modi government was committed to the welfare of the poor and the socially deprived sections.

He did not touch on the demands for reservation in the higher judiciary or the removal of Justice Goel from the National Green Tribunal.


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