A public hearing was held in Ravi Bhawan, Nagpur, Maharashtra, by the National Human Rights Commission on 28th to 30th January, 2013, for disposal of complaints received from persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes. A total of 571cases were taken up by two benches presided over by Hon’ble Members Justice B.C. Patel and Satyabrata Pal. More than 200 complaints were disposed of at the public hearing.
People came from far flung areas to attend. The Commission, however, noted with disdain that the response of officers of the State Government was very poor, except in four or five districts. In some cases, the Commission even directed the State Government to reimburse the travelling expenses of the complainants.
The complaints received by the Commission touched upon various issues like forcible dispossession of Scheduled Castes from their lands, denial of benefits of social welfare schemes, discrimination, grabbing of land by persons of upper castes, malpractices of revenue authorities, non-payment of retiral benefits, non issue of caste certificates, etc. Notices of the complaints were issued to the State Government. After receipt of notice, the State Government issued BPL cards to some persons and in some cases caste certificates were also issued. Some persons, whose salary had been withheld or who had not received retiral benefits, were given relief by the Commission.
Some issues of great public importance were raised at the public hearing:
1. A petition was received from Akhil Bhartiya Safai Mazdoor Congress alleging that the Government of Maharashtra have not implemented the recommendation of the Lad-Page Committee set up for the welfare of Safair Mazdoors. The Committee had recommended to give employment to the candidates of Balmiki caste and also to their dependants to the post of Sweeper after their retirement. A number of posts of Sweeper in different hospitals and dispensaries of the State were lying vacant due to non-implementation of the recommendations. The State Government told the Commission that it had taken a decision to outsource the services of
cleanliness in the government medical hospitals. Therefore, steps were not being taken for filling up the posts of sweepers by appointing heirs of retired employees. The Commission observed that outsourcing of cleanliness of hospitals would result in denial of jobs to persons coming from the Balmiki community and it also amounts to abdication of supervisory duty by the officers of the government. The Commission also pointed out to the Government Resolution dated 21 October, 2011 and recommended that the said GR should be sincerely given effect to. This would benefit a large number of Valmiki community desirous of getting jobs of Sweepers. Similar relief was also given to Safai Karamcharies in Jalgaon Mahanagar Palika.
2. It was also complained that in 213 secondary schools in district Sholapur, the Scheduled Caste students had not received the scholarships for the year 2011-2012. The State Government explained that the proposals for scholarship had to be sent to the Social Welfare Department by the concerned schools. It was also stated that show-cause notices had been issued to the defaulting schools and 203 schools had submitted explanations. The Commission recommended that the schools should immediately submit proposals for grant of scholarships to the students and the amount of scholarship should be disbursed to the eligible students within one month.
3. The Commission was told that Sickle Cell Disease had not been included in the eligibility criteria to define a disabled person in the RPWD Bill, 2012. The Commission observed that Thalassemia had been included in the eligibility criteria. Since both Thalassemia and Sickle Cell Disease are related to blood disorder, the Commission recommended to the Central Government to consider inclusion of Sickle Cell Disease also in the diseases in RPWD Bill, 2012.
4. The Commission also took notice of the plight of those persons who have been occupying government land for decades and yet their possession has not been regularized. A recommendation was made to the State Government to consider the cases of such persons sympathetically and in cases where they have been in possession since long, steps should be taken for regularization of their possession in accordance with the directions issued by the Hon’ble Supreme Court.
5. A complaint was received from Shri Dilip Rao P. Agale of Anna Bhau Sathe Sangharsh Samiti regarding the State Government’s reluctance to accord recognition to primary and secondary school at Pangaon, district Latur, exclusively for the benefit of SC students. The State Government explained that there were four schools within the area of one kilometer and therefore, the school run by the Sangharsh Samiti could not be recognized. The Commission pointed out that this school is meant exclusively for SC children and imparting education to the children of that community is the primary social responsibility of the government. The Commission asked the State Government to take a decision about according recognition to the school within four weeks.
6. A handicapped woman, Sunita Rajendra Sapkale, made a grievance that the benefits which are available to the physically challenged employees of the State have not been extended to her. After hearing the representative of the State Government, the Commission directed that the complainant should be given all the benefits which a physically handicapped person is entitled to.
7. The painful case of a SC girl and her slain brother was also brought to the notice of the Commission. The minor girl was kidnapped and raped by some persons of the upper caste. The police registered a case and arrested the accused. The accused was, however, released on bail by the Court. The bail order did not mention any reason for grant of bail. The Commission observed that the copy of the bail order would be sent to the High Court. The brother of the girl was later on murdered by the same person. The accused was arrested but again he was granted bail. The Commission directed that the investigation of the murder case be entrusted to the CBCID.
During the public hearing at Nagpur, the Commission observed that the process of inquiry for issue of caste certificates was taking a long time to conclude, thereby causing inconvenience to scheduled caste persons. It was also noticed in many cases that the police was reluctant to register FIR when approached by SC persons with complaints. A large number of persons complained that the benefit of the housing schemes was not being given to them. Although, land was allotted under the Schemes, the Patta was not issued and entry of mutation in the revenue records was not made. In many matters relating to housing/land schemes, the Commission could not give relief to the complainants because they had already approached the Courts of law and the matter was subjudice.
On 31 January, 2013, the Commission had a meeting with NGOs and Shyadari Guest House. The representatives of the NGOs highlighted several issues of vital importance. They pointed out that the Chairperson of the State Human Rights Commission has not been appointed by the State Government. The Commission was also informed that the meeting of the State Vigilance Committee had not taken place for a long time. Ms. Medha Patkar apprised the Commission of the subhuman conditions in which the slum dwellers were living. She stated that Section 5 of the Slums Act was not being properly implemented and basic amenties were not available to the slum dwellers. There was massive corruption in Slum Rehabilitation Scheme. She informed the Commission that Sidharth Colony at Bandra had been demolished only yesterday without notice to the inhabitants and without making any arrangement for their rehabilitation. She urged the Commission to make an inquiry into the housing rights of Dalits. Another NGO brought to the notice of the Commission that Tanta Mukti Scheme which had been launched by an executive order was prejudicial to the interests of the SCs because they had no voice at the village level and decisions were taken under the influence of mighty upper caste persons. Another NGO appealed that the State Government be asked to launch a media campaign against untouchability. The issue of denotified tribes and nomadic tribes was also raised by NGOs at the meeting. One lady from Manpur Mandala Basti told the Commission that there was no school in the Basti and the children of the poor people had to travel long distances to take education.
The issues which were highlighted by NGOs or arose during the public hearing at Nagpur were taken up with officers of the State Government in an interaction which took place at Shaydri Guest House immediately thereafter. The Chief Secretary of the Government of Maharashtra promised to look into all the issues and take corrective action if required. He assured the Commission that if a school was required for the children of Manpur Mandala Basti, the Corporation will take necessary steps. He also assured that an appraisal of the Tanta Mukti Scheme would be made and if it was working to the prejudice of SC persons, the State Government would take the required corrective action. DGP, Maharashtra informed the Commission that a circular for strict compliance of Section 154 Cr. P.C. had been already issued. He assured the Commission that the circular would be reiterated and necessary directions would be given to the police officers at district level.