The Indian caste system and its social-stratification gave rise to few disadvantaged castes such as Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST). “Scheduled Castes”is defined under article 366(24) as castes, races, tribes, or parts of groups which are deemed under article 341 to be Scheduled Castes. To provide safeguards against discrimination and to uplift the community socially and economically, the commissioner for SC/ST was assigned, under article 338, to report matters relating to their safeguards to the President.
As the need arose to replace the commissioner with a multi-member system that can better monitor the implementation of the constitutional safeguards, the Government set up the “Commission for SC/ST”(Vide Ministry of Home Affairs Resolution No.13013|9177-SCT [IV] dated 21.7.1978) in 1978 but its functions were modified and it was renamed as “National Commission for Scheduled castes and Scheduled tribes” in 1987. The constitutional status was given to the commission in 1990 through the 65th amendment act. It was finally through the 89th Amendment act, 2003 which replaced the commission into-
1. National Commission for Scheduled Castes; and
2. National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.
National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) comes under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.
The commission comprises a Chairperson, Vice-Chairperson, and three other members, appointed by the President of India under Article 338(2). The functions of the NCSC are listed in Article 338(5) of the constitution which includes the duty to investigate, monitor, and evaluate the laws for the SCs, inquire into complaints that are related to their rights and safeguards and get involved with the state in formulating plans for their socio-economic development. They are required to present periodical reports to the President containing statistics and recommendations/ measures to be taken for the community. The commission is obliged to function for-
a. Services safeguards– Deal with complaints relating to promotion, harassment, discrimination, in workplaces.
b. Educational development– focuses on literacy, scholarships-schemes, and checks the issue of “false community certificates.”
c. Reducing atrocities– monitors the implementation of legal provisions, the case disposal rates, set up special courts, and conduct inquiries against atrocities.
d. Economic development– monitors poverty alleviation schemes, recommends for land reforms, land revenue administration, etc.
The functioning of the “services safeguard” is the most effective one in the commission as it properly inquires into complaints and undertakes specific measures to check violations and improve the situations. But, the commission’s efforts in tackling atrocities have not been up to the mark. Even though the commission collects data related to atrocities, looks into its speedy disposal, and, sets up special courts but it has never presented any detailed study with a comprehensive set of recommendations on the same issue. It has been reluctant to play a role in analysing social realities for any fundamental changes.[i]
After a PIL was filed stating that there were vacant head-posts in NCSC and they failed to look into the Hathras case, it was alleged that the commission is a paper tiger, which has become non-functional.[ii]This reflects the inefficiency in the commission’s work.
A study by “Centre for policy research”[iii]revealed that due to lack of institutionalization in procedures of the appointment to the commission it is difficult to get competent and committed members so it suggested that appointment process should be made more autonomous of the government so that the commission could easily venture into areas like assessing political safeguards given to SCs. L C Jain suggested that the chairman of the commission should be ex-officio Member of the Planning commission (like finance minister), should be invited to Cabinet meetings which consider matter relating to backward-classes and should be given a cabinet rank, if higher rank is not possible.[iv]
1. The NCSC enjoys a constitutional status but its recommendations and decisions are only advisory and not binding.Article 338 is deeply ambiguous on this issue and it gives the commission quasi-judicial powers of investigation but doesn’t mention the form in which its judgment of any issue would be delivered and implemented.[v]The central and state government consults the commission concerning policy-making and measures to be taken for the community but if the same is not binding then often it happens that these are not implemented or taken seriously by authorities which defeats the essence of the existence of such commissions. For this reason, it is justifiable to amend article 338, so that the directions and recommendations of the commissions could be implemented effectively by either making them binding or forming a strict mechanism that would ensure whether relevant suggestions of the commissions are implemented by the authorities or not. This will make the commission’s working more fruitful by executing their recommendations which will ultimately help in improving the condition of SCs. And as far as quasi-judicial power of investigation is concerned, the amendment needs to elaborate on the judgment delivering mechanism and its nature.
2. The Annual Reports which are presented to the President for discussion in Parliament usually takes two years to be tabled in Parliament after its submission.Such delay happens due to the reason that Action Taken Report (ATR) has to be attached to the main report. The constitution doesn’t fix any period for the same. Also, the reports are not properly debated and these situations contribute to the non-implementation of recommendations. So, the ATR can be delinked from the main report, so that the latter can be tabled in parliament within 3 months[vi]for quick and thorough discussions. An amendment is required to fix a period for discussion of the recommendations in the report.
The reports of NCSC depend majorly on quantitative data than qualitative ones. So, the commission should also undertake qualitative studies through social scientists and this would help people to understand societal issues like intra-group conflicts and contemporary social changes in a better manner. The NCSC publishes special reports very rarely. It needs to publish more special reports dealing with specific issues like education, non-employment, reservations, etc for a thorough analysis of each aspect of problem area relating to SC which would help to take quicker follow-up action.
[i]‘Social Inequality and Institutional Remedies: A study of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes’ (2010), Centre for policy research.
[ii]Ashish Tripathi, ‘Supreme Court notice to Centre on plea for appointment in SC/ST panels’  Deccan Herald <https://www.deccanherald.com/national/north-and-central/supreme-court-notice-to-centre-on-plea-for-appointment-in-sc/st-panels-936527.html > accessed 2 April 2021.
[iii]Supra Note i.
[iv]L C Jain, ‘Emancipation of Scheduled Castes and Tribes: Some Suggestions’ (1981) 16 Economic and Political Weekly 325, 331.
[v]Supra Note i.
[vi]‘4thReport’ (1998), National Commission for Scheduled Caste.
AUTHORED BY: KRITIKA PATNAIK
She is a first year law student from National Law University, Odisha. She has deep interest in researching and writing papers. She aspires of exploring her acquired legal knowledge as a corporate lawyer one day. Along with the corporate world, she has inclination towards LGBTQ and women rights. She is passionate about art, sports, and photography and was certified as an “All-Rounder” during her school times.