Several Dalit organisations called for a Bharat bandh against the Supreme Court order on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act banning automatic arrest and registration of cases.
As Dalit protests turned violent, the Centre on Monday moved the Supreme Court seeking a review of its recent verdict on scheduled castes and tribes, saying it has led to 'dilution' of some stringent provisions of law to prevent atrocities against them.
Separately, Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government 'differs' with the reasoning given by the apex court judgement 'virtually redoing the entire architecture of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act'.
The apex court, however, declined urgent hearing on a writ petition filed by All India Federation of SC/ST Organisations against the verdict claiming that the entire nation has witnessed large-scale violence during Monday's 'Bharat Bandh'. The court said the plea would be listed and heard in due course.
At least nine persons were killed and many injured in violence as Dalit protesters blocked trains, clashed with police and set fire to vehicles across several states during a nationwide bandh called to protest against the court verdict.
In a bid to protect honest public servants discharging bona fide duties from being blackmailed with false cases under the SC/ST Act, the apex court on March 20 diluted its stringent provisions mandating immediate arrest under the law.
The union government, in its review petition, said the verdict has 'wide ramification and implication resulting in dilution of the stringent provisions of law enacted under the 1989 enactment.
"It(the verdict) adversely affects a substantial portion of the population of India being the members of SC/ST. It is also contrary to the legislative policy of Parliament as reflected in the Prevention Of Atrocities Act 1989".
Highly placed sources in the government, meanwhile, said Attorney General K K Venugopal would mention the review petition in the top court on Tuesday for an early hearing.
Seeking an open court hearing of the review petition, it said that 'oral arguments are essential in the present matter in order to assist the court. Further, it would be in the interest of justice that oral arguments be entertained by this court'.
Justifying the petition, the Centre said that despite various measures to improve the socio-economic conditions of the SCs and STs, they still remained vulnerable.
"They are denied a number of civil rights. They are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations and harassment. They have, in several brutal incidents, been deprived of their life and properties, serious crimes are committed against them for various historical, social and economic reasons," it said.
The Centre said that section 18 of the Act is the backbone as it enforces an inherent deterrence and instills sense of protection amongst members of SCs and STs and any 'dilution thereof would shake the very objective of mechanism to prevent offences of atrocities'.
The review petition said 'it has escaped the consideration of this court that contrary to the assertion of any misuse of the 1989 Act, the facts and data have demonstrated a weak implementation of the said Act, thereby endorsing the requirement for a strict interpretation of the deterrent provisions contained therein'.
Assailing the apex court's recent directions on grant of anticipatory bail, the Centre said such a relief would expose the complainant victims to threats by accused and it may also impede the probe and subsequent prosecution.
The petition further said if the rights of accused needed to be protected under Article 21, then simultaneous protection needed to be given to the SC/ST community under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Any interpretation of the Act which results in the dilution of its provisions would result in depriving the members of the SC/ST community of their right under Article 21, it added.
On the other hand, the plea filed by All India Federation of SC/ST Organisations, a conglomerate of nearly 150 employees' groups, said that after the March 20 verdict, large-scale nationwide violence has taken place in which several people have lost their lives.
The Federation also sought urgent hearing of the writ petition by Tuesday.
A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud, however, said the petition would be heard in due course and there was no urgency to hear it.
Advocate Manoj Gorkela, appearing for the employees federation, mentioned the matter before the bench saying the apex court verdict was 'unfair' and 'unjust' and 'it should be stayed'.
He also prayed that the writ petition challenging the verdict should be heard by a larger bench of five judges.
Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it is important to note that the government was not firmly made a party in this case and was only allowed to make certain oral submissions.
"We feel that a sensitive case of this nature required a more in depth consideration with requisite consideration of objective data to come to a conclusion as to whether the law is being abused or there is a need to give protection to the continued, unfortunate instances of injustice against Dalits," he told reporters.
Supreme Court decision on SC/ST Act 'appropriate', says UP minister
Uttar Pradesh cabinet minister and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party chief Om Prakash Rajbhar has supported the Supreme Court's ruling on the SC/ST Act, arguing that "innocent people" were harassed.
"The decision of the Supreme Court is absolutely appropriate, as the SC/ST Act is widely misused similar to the Dowry Prohibition Act. Innocent people are harassed in the garb of this Act. A case should be registered only after probe by a magistrate-level officer," Rajbhar told reporters in Ballia.
The president of the SBSP, an ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led UP government, added that the guilty should not be spared, but "innocent person should not be unnecessarily harassed".
IMAGE: Protesters block the railway track in Ghaziabad during Bharat bandh. Photograph: ANI