• National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) is a constitutional body that works to safeguard the interests of the scheduled castes (SC) in India.
  • It seeks to offer the SC community protection from discrimination and exploitation, as well as providing facilities to uplift the SC community.
  • Article 338 of the constitution of India deals with this commission:
    • It provides for a National Commission for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes with duties to investigate and monitor all matters relating to safeguards provided for them, to inquire into specific complaints and to participate and advise on the planning process of their socio-economic development etc.

Scheduled Caste

  • The 1931 Census, for the first time systematically categorized certain castes as “depressed classes”. Thereafter, the Government of India Act 1935 for the first time provided for notification of socially disadvantaged castes as “Scheduled Caste”.
  • Scheduled castes are defined in Article 366 of the Constitution of India, as “such castes, races or tribes or parts of all groups within such caste, race or tribes as are seen under Article 341(1) to be scheduled castes for the purpose of the Constitution.

National Commission for Scheduled Castes – Historical Background

  • Special Officer: For the effective implementation of the safeguard provided for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in the Constitution, provision of appointment of a special officer under Article 338 of the Constitution was inserted.
  • Such Special Officer was designated as Commissioner for Schedule Caste and Scheduled Tribes and was assigned the duty to investigate all matters relating to the safeguard for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes and report to the President upon the working of this safeguard.
  • An amendment was made in Article 338 of the Constitution on the demand of the members of Parliament that the officer of the Commissioner was not enough to monitor the implementation of Constitutional safeguard replacing one member system with a multi-member system.
  • While the amendment act to Article 338 was still under consideration, the Government decided to set up a multi-member commission through an administrative decision.
  • Thus, the first commission for the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled was, therefore, set up in 1978.
  • The Constitutional recognition was given to the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled tribes consequent upon passing of the constitution (65th Amendment Bill), 1990.
  • The first such commissioner for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled was abolished.
  • 89th Constitutional Amendment Act 2003:
    • The erstwhile National Commission for Scheduled caste and Scheduled Tribes has been replaced by National Commission for Scheduled Caste and National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
    • The first National Commission for Scheduled Castes was formed in 2004 under the chairmanship of Suraj Bhan.

Structure of NCSC

  • It consists of:
    • Chairperson.
    • Vice-chairperson.
    • Three other members.
  • They are appointed by the President by warrant under his hand and seal.
  • Chairman has the status of a cabinet minister and the vice-chairman has a rank of a minister of state.

Tenure of National Commission for Scheduled Caste

  • The tenure of the Chairman of the National Scheduled Tribes Commission is not fixed; He remains at the post till the pleasure of the president of India. But as a tradition his tenure is fixed for 3 years.

Powers of the National Commission for Scheduled Caste

  • The Commission shall have the power to regulate its own procedure. For Investigation and Inquiry, the Commission is vested with powers of a civil court having authority to:
  • Summon and enforce the attendance of any person and examine on oath.
  • Receive evidence on affidavits.
  • Discovery and production of any documents.
  • Examine a person on oath.
  • Issue Commissions for examination of witnesses and documents.
  • Any matter which President, by rule, may determine.

Functions

  • Monitoring and investigating all issues concerning the safeguards provided for the SCs under the constitution.
  • Enquiring into complaints relating to the deprivation of the rights and safeguards of the SCs.
  • Taking part in and advising the central or state governments with respect to the planning of socio-economic development of the SCs.
  • Regular reporting to the President of the country on the implementation of these safeguards.
  • Recommending steps to be taken to further the socio-economic development and other welfare activities of the SCs.
  • Any other function with respect to the welfare, protection, development and advancement of the SC community.
  • The Commission is also required to discharge similar functions with regard to the Anglo-Indian Community as it does with respect to the SCs.
  • Till 2018, the commission was also required to discharge similar functions with regard to the other backward classes (OBCs). It was relieved from this responsibility by the 102nd Amendment Act of 2018.
  • A key monitoring activity performed by the Commission pertains to the setting up of special courts for the speedy trial of offences under the Civil Rights Act and the Atrocities Act.
  • It also monitors the case disposal rates of these courts. Over the years, the Commission has conducted several on-the-spot inquiries into complaints of atrocities.

Issues related to the role of National Commission for Scheduled Castes

  • Non-binding recommendations:
    • Atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes account for 89% of the crimes against SCs and STs combined.
    • Even though the Commission has extensive powers of investigation and inquiry in this area and can fix responsibility and recommend action, its recommendations are not binding.
  • Less sensitive:
    • The existing priorities of the Commission are visibly lopsided in favour of the elite of these communities.
    • Since the Commission, for the most part, acts on complaints, it is said that commission have been less than sensitive to the poor Dalits which are engendered by the lack of education or information.
    • The Commission has not used its powers of suo motu cognisance actively enough.
  • Litigation:
    • In the matter of criminal investigation, that would require it to follow prevailing rules and procedures pertaining to evidence and prosecution.
    • This retards the effectiveness of the commission by rendering it vulnerable to litigation in the form of appeals to higher judicial bodies and thereby nullifying its operational effectiveness.
  • Delays:
    • There are delays in conducting the inquiry and in delivering judgements.
    • Moreover, there is a perception that the Commission tends to confirm the government’s position on most cases.
  • Irregularity:
    • The Commission is supposed to prepare an annual report for presentation to Parliament.
    • Reports are often tabled two or more years after they have been submitted to the President.
    • Even when Reports are tabled in Parliament, they are frequently not discussed.
  • Proliferation:
    • In many policy sectors, as in the case of the Scheduled Castes, the proliferation of institutions has created an institutional confusion in which the roles and powers of each are obfuscated.
    • The duplication and multiplication of institutions has created more confusion.

Measures need to be taken up by NCSC

  • Strengthening the legal and judicial protection of Dalits under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act:
    • The Commission can facilitate online reporting and trackingof crime.
    • It can make people aware of the process of filing the cases by framing and making available simplified Standard Operating Procedures in local languages at all the police stations.
  • Capacity building and sensitisation of the institutions:The Commission can help in capacity building of lawyers, judges and policemen. This can ensure their empathetic engagement with members from Scheduled Castes.
    • The Commission can help sensitize at least the government institutions and organisations by regularly monitoring their grievance redressal mechanisms like internal complaints committee.
  • Ensuring effective implementation of existing government policies:The Commission can discuss with legislators and prioritise outcome-oriented fund expenditure across the Ministries.
    • Each ministry is supposed to set aside 15% of its spending in a Scheduled Caste Sub Plan. The Commission can restructure these funds for employment generation and self-employment, capacity building, including soft skills of Dalits.
    • Effectiveness and impacts of existing schemes can be monitored by the Commission regularly.
  • Scheduled Caste Sub Plan
    • Every year, the Union Budget makes allocations exclusively for the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe.
    • This fund is spent through the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan (SCSP) and the Tribal Sub Plan (TSP).
    • All Central Ministries and departments are obligated to set aside funds under the SCSP and the TSP.
  • Incentivise Good Social Work:
    • Innovation, effectiveness, and positive impact of the work done by a department or a body can be rewarded by the Commission.
    • The Commission has a constitutional mandate to participate in the social and economic planning for SC welfare — it should use this mandate to guide the civil services that engage with the ground level realities in the country.
  • Better engagement with civil society:The Commission can create a platform for structured engagement with civil society groups working on Dalit issues.
  • Behavioural nudge:The Commission can identify social practices that promote discrimination and can help civil society and the government organise debates, deliberations, awareness campaigns around them.
  • Facilitate economic empowerment and entrepreneurship:
    • It can discuss and encourage Universities to frame short term courses on entrepreneurship. It can also ensure that measures taken by the government in this direction reach their beneficiaries- for example Stand Up India Scheme.
    • It can encourage a participative approach to promote economic empowerment by engaging with the ideas proposed by the members of the community.
    • It can promote skills and small business development in the service economy.
    • Members of Scheduled Castes are not usually landowners or agriculturists. So they need help in integrating and competing with local and other markets which can be done through mentoring and other non-financial support.
  • Preparing for future challenges by facilitating inter-disciplinary research:The Commission can invite Central universities and civil society to first identify the five biggest challenges that Dalits are likely to face in the next five years and to suggest ways to mitigate them.

NCSC is mandated to curb violence against Dalits through various powers. It is desirable for the Commission to engage in an internal evaluation of its priorities on an ongoing basis and to redefine them in a substantively more egalitarian way so as to accomplish its mandate in the spirit in which it was intended.

Other Constitutional Provisions For Upliftment of the Schedule Caste
  • Article 15(4) refers to the special provisions for their advancement.
  • Article 16(4A) speaks of “reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of SCs/STs, which are not adequately represented in the services under the State’.
  • Article 17 abolishes Untouchability.
  • Article 46 requires the State ‘to promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and to protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.
  • Article 335 provides that the claims of the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes shall be taken into consideration, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration, in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the Union or of a State.
  • Article 330 and Article 332 of the Constitution respectively provide for reservation of seats in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes in the House of the People and in the legislative assemblies of the States.
  • Under Part IX relating to the Panchayats and Part IXA of the Constitution relating to the Municipalities, reservation for SC and ST in local bodies has been envisaged and provided.

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