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Rights of SC and STs

 Constitutional Rights:

The Constitution contains various provisions which provide for several rights and safeguards for the scheduled castes (SCs) and the scheduled tribes (STs). While most of these provisions are common to both SCs and STs, some are exclusively meant for either of these two (SCs and STs).

The constitutional rights and safeguards of SCs and STs can be classified into the following categories:

  1. Social Rights and Safeguards
  2. Educational/Economic Rights and Safeguards
  3. Service Rights and Safeguards
  4. Political Rights and Safeguards
  5. Administrative Rights and Safeguards.

Social Rights and Safeguards:

  1. Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden (Article 17).
  2. Traffic in human beings and forced labour are prohibited (Article 23).
  3. The State is empowered to throw open Hindu religious institutions of public character to all classes and sections of Hindus (Article 25(2)(b)).
  4. The right to move freely throughout the territory of India and the right to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India can be restricted on the ground of the protection of interests of the STs (Article 19(5)).

Educational/Economic Rights and Safeguards:

  1. The State shall promote with special case the educational and economic interests of the SCs and STs and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation (Article 46).
  2. The State is empowered to make any special provision for the advancement of the SCs and STs  Article 15(4)).
  3. The State is empowered to make any special provision for the SCs and STs regarding their admission to educational institutions including private educational institutions (whether aided or unaided by the State), except the minority educational institutions (Article 15(5)).

Service Rights and Safeguards:

  1. The State is empowered to provide for reservation in promotions (with consequential seniority) to any services under the State in favour of the SCs and STs (Article 16(4-A)).
  2. The claims of the SCs and STs shall be taken into consideration (consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration) in making appointments to the public services of the Centre and the states (Article 335).
  3. While taking into consideration the claims of SCs and STs in making appointments to the public services of the Centre and the states, the consultation with the respective Public Service Commission (UPSC or SPSC) shall not be required (Article 320(4)).

Political Rights and Safeguards:

  1. Seats shall be reserved for the SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha (Article 330).
  2. Seats shall be reserved for the SCs and STs in the State Legislative Assemblies (Article 332).
  3. The reservation of seats for the SCs and STs in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies shall cease after seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution (Article 334). The 95th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2009 has extended this reservation for a further period of ten years (i.e., upto 2020).
  4. Seats shall be reserved for the SCs and STs in every Panchayat (i.e., at all the three levels) (Article 243-D(1)).
  5. The offices of the Chairpersons in the Panchayats at the village or any other level shall be reserved for the SCs and STs (Article 243-D(4)).
  6. The reservation of seats and offices of Chairpersons for the SCs and STs in the Panchayats shall cease after seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution (Article 243-D(5)).
  7. Seats shall be reserved for the SCs and STs in every Municipality (Article 243-T(1)).
  8. The offices of Chairpersons in the Municipalities shall be reserved for the SCs and STs (Article 243-T(4)).
  9. The reservation of seats and offices of Chairpersons for the SCs and STs in the Municipalities shall cease after seventy years from the commencement of the Constitution (Article 243-T(5)).

Administrative Rights and Safeguards:

  1. The provisions of the Fifth Schedule shall apply to the administration and control of the Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any state other than the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram (Article 244(1)).
  2. The provisions of the Sixth Schedule shall apply to the administration of the tribal areas in the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram (Article 244(2)).
  3. The president is required to appoint a commission to report on the administration of the scheduled areas and the welfare of the STs in the states. He can appoint such a commission at any time but compulsorily after ten years of the commencement of the Constitution (Article 339(1)).
  4. The executive power of the Centre extends to the giving of directions to a state with respect to the drawing up and execution of schemes for the welfare of the STs in the state (Article 339(2)).
  5. The Centre should pay grants-in-aid to the states for meeting the costs of schemes of welfare of the STs and for raising the level of administration in the scheduled areas (Article 275(1)).
  6. A minister in charge of tribal welfare should be appointed in the states of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha. He may also be put additionally in charge of the welfare of the SCs (Article 164(1)).
  7. The President should set up a National Commission for the SCs to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and legal rights and safeguards for the SCs and to report to him (Article 338).
  8. The President should set up a National Commission for the STs to investigate and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and legal rights and safeguards for the STs and to Legal Rights.

Legal Rights:

The legislations which contain the rights and safeguards for the SCs and STs are as follows:
  1. Protection of Civil Rights Act (1955) prescribes punishment for the preaching and practice of “untouchability”and for the enforcement of any disability arising therefrom. It provides penalties for preventing a person, on the ground of untouchability, from enjoying civil rights i.e., rights accruing to a person on account of the abolition of untouchability.
  2. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (1989) prevents the commission of offences of atrocities against the SCs and STs by persons other than the SCs and STs. It also provides for the establishment of special courts for speedy trial of such offences. Further, it makes provision for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences.
  3. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act (1976) freed unilaterally all the bonded labourers from bondage with simultaneous liquidation of their debts. It provides for the identification and release of bonded abourers and rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers.
  4. Minimum Wages Act (1948) provides for fixation, review, revision and enforcement of minimum wage in respect of notified employments.
  5. Legal Services Authorities Act (1987) provides for free legal services to the SCs and STs.
  6. Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act (2013) seeks to prohibit employment of individuals as manual scavengers by prescribing stringent punishment, including imprisonment upto five years. It also has provisions for rehabilitation of manual scavengers and their families. This new law overrides the old Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act (1993). This means that the 1993 Act would become practically infructuous.
  7. Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act (2006) provides for reservation of 15% for the students belonging to the SCs and 7.5% for STs in central educational institutions (other than those exempted under the Act).
  8. Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act (2006) seeks to recognise and vest the forest rights and occupation in forest land in forest dwelling STs and other traditional forest dwellers who have been residing in such forests for generations but whose rights could not be recorded.
  9. Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (1996) (PESA) is aimed at the preservation of the customs, practices and resources of the STs. It provides for reservation to the STs in the Panchayats.
  10. The following other legislations contain certain rights and safeguards for the STs:
    • Indian Forest Act (1927)
    • Forest (Conservation) Act (1980)
    • State Acts relating to the prevention of alienation and restoration of land belonging to thenSTs. In some states, such provisions exist in the Land Revenue Code.
    • State Acts regulating money-lending to the STs.

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