Former Union minister of state Vijay Sampla, who was denied the 2019 Lok Sabha ticket by BJP from Hoshiarpur in Punjab, would take over as chairperson of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) today. He shared with TOI’s his priorities in the new role, and also whether he thinks a scheduled caste community member can hope of becoming the chief minister of Punjab.
What would be your priorities as chairperson of the NCSC?
I would try my best to protect the constitutional rights, welfare and dignity of the persons belonging to the scheduled castes. It would be my priority to ensure justice to the scheduled caste members facing social or administrative injustice or discrimination in any manner.
India has 16.63% population of scheduled castes as per the 2011 census. Why should there be a need for the Supreme Court’s intervention to fill up the post in the NCSC which was vacant since May last year?
There is a lengthy process for the appointment since it is a constitutional post to which the appointment is made by the President. I don’t know what could have been the exact reason for the delay but I think it was due to the Covid-19 lockdown since the Union government’s first priority was to save lives.
There are still separate gurdwaras and cremation grounds for the scheduled castes in your own home state, Punjab. What can be done to change this situation?
Rather than any (court) ruling, there is a need to change the mindset of people. Though there are common cremation grounds in cities now, still many villages across the country have separate cremation grounds for scheduled castes. I would say that there is a need to start a campaign with various religious institutions to change the mindset. I can only appeal to people because whether it is Guru Ravidass Gurdwara or any other Gurdwara, they all have the same Guru Granth Sahib.
Manual scavenging was banned under the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013. However, as per a national survey, there were still 62,904 manual scavengers across the country on January 31, 2020, and 110 deaths were reported in 2019 while cleaning sewer tanks.
The National Commission for Safai Karamcharis has been constituted to take care of the welfare of safai karamcharis. I served as the Union minister of state for social justice and empowerment, I can say that our government has made clear the need to strictly implement the laws. In case of any emergency, the person will only enter the sewer tank after wearing all protective gears, including oxygen cylinder. But making laws is not going to solve the problem and we as a society need to see it through the lens of love for humankind. Many a times poor people unfortunately take such risks for the sake of money. The government has also made a provision of Rs 10 lakh compensation in case of any unfortunate accident.
While serving as a Union minister of state in the previous NDA government when the BJP denied you the ticket for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, you had said it was ‘Gau Hatya’ (cow slaughter). What’s your stand today?
The chairperson of the commission should refrain from giving any political statement. Secondly, the country in which we live has the concept of rebirth. After that incident, I had been working for the party without going anywhere and all should draw the conclusion from that.
Do you think that you have been chosen for the NCSC top post keeping in view the 2022 Punjab legislative assembly polls as Punjab has the highest percentage (31.94%) of scheduled caste population in the country and the BJP is going to contest elections independently this time?
Only the Prime Minister and the President can tell why I have been chosen. I cannot answer this. Once a person is appointed to this constitutional post, he or she does not bother about politics or vote bank and only focuses on protecting the rights of the scheduled castes members.
BJP had been mulling to project an SC member as CM face for the 2022 Punjab assembly elections. How committed is your party to have a Dalit CM since you also had served as Punjab BJP president earlier?
As I have been appointed as the chairperson of the NCSC, I should not see this issue politically. But when Punjab has such a huge population of scheduled castes and if the people vote scheduled caste members to power through a democractic process, they should definitely get a chance to lead.
The BJP had alleged multi-crore postmatric scholarship scam in Punjab. Though the Punjab government has given a clean chit to its minister Sadhu Singh Dharamsot, why could not the Punjab BJP get the issue addressed through the BJP-led central government as it is a centrally funded scheme?
After taking over the charge of the chairperson on February 24, I would definitely check whether there had been any complaint on this issue and what action was taken.