Activists demand State-level Commission for SCs/STs

Published on The Hindu

They point out it will be effective only if it is independent

The recent wall collapse in Mettupalayam, which resulted in the death of 17 persons from a Scheduled Caste community, has brought to the fore the need for a State-level Commission for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) that can help in effectively dealing with caste discrimination and welfare of SC and ST communities.

Stressing on the need for a State-level body on the lines of those in Kerala and Punjab, a section of activists, however, opined that such a Commission will be effective provided it functioned independently.

“The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has largely failed as an institution. A State-level Commission must not turn out to be another NCSC,” said A. Kathir, executive director of the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Evidence.

K. Samuel Raj, general secretary, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, said that when there was a State Human Rights Commission and a State Commission for Women, there was no reason why Tamil Nadu that claims to be a progressive State should not have a Commission for SCs and STs. “If it is set up as a statutory body, there will be scope for civil society groups to pressurise and make it effective even if it fails to act independently and effectively,” he said.

NCSC’s limitations

I. Pandian from the NGO Witness for Justice alleged that though NCSC had significant powers, it failed to discharge its duty and had merely become a post office for forwarding petitions. “No follow-up action is done. The State Directorate of NCSC is functioning without a Director for more than a year,” he said.

“In such a scenario, a State-level Commission can make a considerable difference. However, there is a need to strengthen NCSC as well,” he added.

Mr. Kathir said that the role of a Commission was not significant in incidents such as Mettupalayam that attract wide attention from civil society and the media. “The government, owing to pressure, acts on its own in filing cases and providing compensation,” he said.

“It becomes important in lesser reported cases where the State machinery fails and in incidents like abuse of power by the police. In these cases, the NCSC has miserably failed,” he added. Moreover, he added that the role of NCSC has been narrowed to acting on atrocity cases. “However, a Commission of this nature must participate in policy-making and review of the implementation of laws and welfare measures,” he added.

Arguing that a state-level body could make a difference, he said it must, however, not function under political influence. “The Chairman and other personnel must be appointed by Chief Justice of the Madras High Court,” he said.

C. Lakshmanan, Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies, said that while there is a need for a State-level Commission, it was unlikely to make a difference unless there was an attitudinal change among the ruling and opposition parties on caste-related issues. “Both the Dravidian parties are doing only lip service and have reduced social justice to mere reservation,” he said.

Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi functionary and Lok Sabha member D. Ravi Kumar said that a promise was made by the Tamil Nadu government when Jayalalithaa was the Chief Minister from 2011-16, but was never fulfilled.

Stating that Tamil Nadu projects itself is a land of social justice, he stressed that a Commission should be set up at once.

“Even if the Commission can only make recommendations, it will still have a lot of value. A Commission functioning from the State will understand the local context better and can make meaningful contribution,” he said. He added that retired bureaucrats or judges, who have shown keen interest in the welfare of the SCs and the STs must be appointed as Chairpersons of the State-level Commission.