Ahead of a big protest by Dalit groups, the centre today signed off on a bill to overrule the Supreme Court that had introduced safeguards against arbitrary arrests in the Dalit atrocities law. The change comes days after the BJP ally and its dalit face, Ram Vilas Paswan, threatened to join the protests if Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not restore the law.
"A historic decision has been made.... We thank Modi government for this," Mr Paswan said after the Cabinet meeting.
The bill is expected to be introduced and passed in the ongoing Monsoon session of parliament.
In March this year, the Supreme Court had stopped the immediate arrest of anyone accused under the atrocities law and introduced a provision for bail. The court said on certain occasions, the law was being misused to prevent public servants from doing their duty.
The BJP was initially seen to suggest that the judgment did not dilute the law and hinted at a hands-off approach. But a barrage of criticism that blamed the BJP-led national coalition for not representing the case well in the court forced PM Modi to pledge that he would restore the law.
Dalit leaders and organisations say the Supreme Court diluted the law and had rendered it toothless.
On April 2, nearly a dozen people died in violence that flared up across five states when Dalit groups called for a Bharat Bandh or nationwide shutdown to protest against the Supreme Court order.
A second one was planned for August 9.
The bill cleared by the Union Cabinet at its meeting on Wednesday stipulates that a police officer can register criminal cases under the atrocity law without a preliminary inquiry and arrest people without any approval. It also bars courts from granting protection from arrest to suspects.
Dalit anger against the BJP has left its allies nervous ahead of the 2019 election, especially in states like Bihar, where the community constitutes 16 per cent of the votes and has been deeply disenchanted over the government's response to the Supreme Court order.
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