Constitutional and Legal Protection of SCs and STs in India

Indian constitution abolishes any discrimination to any class of persons on ground or religion race or place of birth (Article 15(1)). It is in pursuance of this ideal that the constitution has abolished communal representation or reservation of seats in the legislatures or in any public office on the basis of religion.

However, the Article 46 of the directive principles enjoins the state to take special care in promoting the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the society and in particular the scheduled castes and scheduled  tribes and to protect them from social  injustice. Any such provision made by the state cannot be challenged on the ground of being discriminatory. Similarly, the Part III constitution guarantees fundamental rights and provides many provisions protecting minority rights.

Constitutional Provisions

Special Protection under Fundamental Rights

Under Part III, article 15(4) enabled the state to make special provisions for SCs, STs, women, Children and other unprivileged sections under the idea of “positive discrimination”.

Abolition of Untouchability

Abolition of untouchability has been included among fundamental rights under article 17. This is supplemented by Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.

Directive Principles

Under DPSP, the article 46 says that state shall make all efforts to protect and promote the educational and economic interests of SCs and STs.

Minister of Tribal Welfare

Art. 164 says that in the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa there shall be a minister in charge of tribal welfare who shall also be in charge of the welfare of SC and other backward classes.

Grants in aid to states promoting welfare of STs

Article 275 provides for grants-in-aid to the states for promoting the welfare of scheduled tribes.

Lowering standards of evaluation

Provisions for relaxation in qualifying marks in any examination or lowering the standards of evaluation, for reservation in matters or promotion for SCs and STs. Art. 335 says that claims of the members of SCs and STs shall be taken into consideration consistent with the maintenance of the efficiency in administration in appointments under the union and the states.

Separate National Commissions for SC and ST

Art. 338 provides for national commission for SCs and article 338A provides for national commission for STs. These commissions have been given all the powers of a civil court in their investigations.  The union and state governments need to consult the commissions on all major matters affecting SC’s and ST’s.

Legal Protection

National commission for Safai Karamcharis

This commission was created via an act of parliament in 1993 initially for a period of three years. Though it is not a permanent commission, yet it’s tenure has been extended from time to time. It works for upliftment and improvement of conditions of safai karamcharis particularly regarding abolition of manual scavenging. It also evaluates the implementation of measures taken for the welfare of safai karamcharis and oversees laws and programmes relating to Safai Karamcharis

It consists of a chairperson, a Vice-chairperson and five members all nominated by the union Government with at least one member is a woman of those engaged in this activity.

The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993

This act prohibits the employment of manual scavengers as well as construction or continuance of dry latrines, yet the biggest violator of this law in India is the Indian Railways which has toilets dropping all the excreta from trains on the tracks and they employ scavengers to clean it manually.

Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013

The 1993 legislation was enacted to prohibit the employment of manual scavengers as well as construction or continuance of dry latrine. But this act did not have clear provisions for rehabilitation of the manual scavengers. The Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act 2013 was legislated for banning manual scavenging completely.

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