CHENNAI: Dalits in the State have been forced to approach the courts to register even first information reports pertaining to cases linked to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
As per the Act, police have to conduct investigations and file charge sheet before a special court or an exclusive special court within 60 days, or explain the delay, if any, in writing. This is not in practice, however, as per information obtained under the Right to Information Act.

The documents obtained by activist Aju Arvind under the RTI Act revealed that the Tamil Nadu police registered 441 FIRs under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act only after judicial intervention. These figures are from 2011 to 2016; the maximum number of such cases registered in 2013  was 95.
Importantly, at a meeting with National Commission for Scheduled Castes chairman Dr PL Punia in July 2015, the State police staunchly denied that FIRs were filed only after a direction from the courts under Section 156 (3) of CrPC (which empowers a magistrate to direct the police to register FIR.)

It takes regular interventions by the courts for cases to be registered, said Arvind, who has combined all RTI responses pertaining to cases registered under the Act in a Tamil book titled ‘Othukapatavargalin Vazhakkugalum Marakkapadum Nithiyum’ (The Cases of the Marginalised People and Denial of Justice).
In 2011, courts had to issue directions to file FIRs in 43 cases; the number of such FIRs registered in 2012 was 89, in 2013 it was 95, 82 cases in 2014, 79 in 2015 and 53 in 2016.

The documents also revealed that from 2011 to 2016, the State police dropped 2,719 cases under the Act under the provision ‘mistake of fact or law’. These include four murder cases and five rape cases.
The Additional Director-General of Police, Social Justice and Human Rights, in a reply to an RTI petition, has stated that 28 out of the total of 32 districts are listed as atrocity-prone against Dalit communities. Similarly, the officer gave out information that the State has listed 278 villages as atrocity-prone.

The Act mandates that exclusive special courts should be set up in all these districts, but Tamil Nadu has only six such courts. Even these were not set up proactively.
It took a direction from the Madras High Court following a writ petition filed by social activist ‘Paadam’ A Narayanan for the State to set up two of these six.
Aju Aravind’s book detailing the ground realities will be released on Friday by former Madras High Court judge, justice Hari Paranthaman.

Story in numbers
Cases registered under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act
Year: 2014
No of cases: 1,636
Year: 2015
No of cases: 1,822
Year: 2016
No of cases: 1,476
Total pending cases
Year: 2016
Under investigation: 740
Trial: 4,551
Conviction rate under the Act: 5.8pc
Acquittal: 94.2pc
Special courts in TN
Atrocity-prone districts: 28
Exclusive special courts: 6

Top four districts in TN with pending cases under the Act

Madurai: 761
Tirunelveli: 560
Sivaganga: 414
Virudhunagar: 331