Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal and Welfare Minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot on Friday lashed out at the opposition, led by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), for obstructing and walking out of a crucial meeting of the High Powered State Level Vigilance and Monitoring Committee, which was convened by the government to take a series of vital decisions, including stringent steps to implement the Prevention of Atrocities Act in the state.With the opposition staging a walkout, it was left to the government to discuss and finalise various initiatives in the interest of the SCs and STs in the state, an official spokesperson said after the meeting, which was the first in more than three years.Manpreet Badal said after the meeting that the opposition chose to walk out, citing the absence of the Chief Minister, instead of participating constructively in the deliberations. This, said Badal, was shameful since Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had been indisposed and could not attend the meeting, which the government then decided not to cancel in the interest of the larger welfare of the SC/ST community.The Chief Minister also later came out with a categorical statement that he did not want to delay the long overdue meeting any further and had thus directed his cabinet colleagues to preside over the proceedings. Making it clear that he would definitely be present in the next meeting of the committee, Captain Amarinder said the decisions taken by the committee would have the same sanctity as would have been the case in his presence. Manpreet had, in fact, given an assurance to this effect during the meeting itself when a Congress member of the committee raised the issue, said the spokesperson.The meeting took several important decisions, including holding of a meeting of the committee every six months– in January and July, from now on, said the spokesperson, adding that the government reiterated its firm commitment to implement the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) across the state in letter and spirit.
A decision was also taken to soon issue a notification incorporating the amendments made in the Act in 2015.Giving details of previous meetings of the committee, Dharamsot said that the as per the provisions of Act, meetings should have been held every six months but the previous government did not hold the meeting as per schedule, and the last meeting was convened in 2015 and prior to that in 2006. Even in the meeting held in 2015, issues relating to the Prevention of Atrocities Act were never discussed and only the Shagun Scheme was deliberated upon as per the minutes recorded at that time. He said that Captain Amarinder led Punjab Government had now made it mandatory to hold such meetings as per the schedule in the Act.Interacting with media persons after the meeting, the Finance Minister criticized the opponents for staging a walkout from the meeting, thereby depriving themselves of an important opportunity to raise issues related to the welfare of the SC community.To a query regarding the resentment shown by members of opposition parties due to Chief Minister's inability to chair the meeting, Manpreet clarified that Captain Amarinder Singh could not attend the meeting as he was indisposed. He said that all opposition members, as responsible legislators, should refrain from politicizing such issues as these meetings always serve as a useful platform to resolve the concerns of the people after thorough deliberations.Manpreet said that it was the collective responsibility of all the legislators to participate in such meetings in the larger public interest and asserted that any decision taken at this forum would have equal importance and relevance as taken by the Chief Minister.
Manpreet further said that in order to ensure strict implementation of the Act, it had been decided that the government would not tolerate any laxity by any official in this regard.The Punjab Government would soon notify the amended Prevention of Atrocities Act-2015 to facilitate increase in the conviction rate in such cases.Chairing the meeting, Dharamsot earlier said the Committee has also decided to hold quarterly meetings of Deputy Commissioners, District and Sessions Judges and Commissioners of Police/Senior Superintendents of Police with the district authorities so as to implement the Prevention of Atrocities Act in right earnest for restoring the confidence of the members of SC community at the grassroots level.Several issues related to the Act, ranging from review of the status of its implementation, rehabilitation and relief facilities to the victims, prosecution of the cases, role of officers/agencies responsible for implementing the Act and monetary assistance to the victims, were meticulously deliberated upon in the meeting.Dharamsot informed the meeting that Special Courts had been made operational in 15 districts to provide speedy justice to the victims of atrocities. A s many as 404 cases had been registered during 2015-18, of which 147 in 2015, 132 in 2016, 121 in 2017 and four till January 31, 2018 for murder, grievous hurt, rape, arson besides under various sections of IPC and other acts such as SCs and STs (POA) Act, 1989, said the minister. He further disclosed that monetary assistance of Rs. 2.23 crore had been disbursed so far to the 639 affected persons through Deputy Commissioners in the state.Expressing concern over the pendency of atrocities cases with the police department, Dharamsot directed the Additional Chief Secretary, Home and Justice to look into the issue and resolve such cases on priority without any further delay. He said that an action taken report in this regard should be submitted positively within a month.Others who attended the meeting included MLAs Dr. Raj Kumar, Tarsem Singh DC, Nathu Ram, Pritam Singh Kotbhai, Sushil Kumar Rinku, Chaudhary Surinder Singh, Balwinder Singh, Satkar Kaur, Additional Chief Secretary N.S. Kalsi, DGP (Administration) M.K. Tiwari, Principal Secretary Welfare of SCs/BCs and Minorities R. Venkat Ratnam, Special Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Gurkirat Kirpal Singh, IGP/EoW Vibhu Raj, Director National Commission for Scheduled Castes Raj Kumar, Research Officer R.K. Sharma and Director SC Sub Plan Raj Bahadur Singh.