Insights into Editorial: A sound review: On Supreme Court recalling its verdict diluting SC/ST anti-atrocities law
The Supreme Court recalled its directions in a March 20, 2018 verdict that had effectively diluted provisions of arrest under the Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes
It was enacted when the provisions of the existing laws (such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and Indian Penal Code) were found to be inadequate to check these crimes (defined as ‘atrocities’ in the Act).
This was following a plea by the Centre seeking a review of that judgment:
- Centre has decided to introduce a Bill to restore the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
- The Amendment Bill seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act.
- Preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.
- Arrest of a person accused of having committed an offence under the Act would not require any approval.
- Provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure: which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act.
Supreme court judgement on SC/ST Act in 2018:
A number of cases of misuse of this Act has been reported from different parts of the country as mentioned.
In 2018, the Supreme Court of India banned immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member to protect innocents from arbitrary arrest.
The Supreme Court has recently recalled its directions
Now, Supreme Court Review on SC/ST Atrocities Act,1989:
In the SC/ST case, a Bench had admitted a review of the March 20, 2018 judgment in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs State of Maharashtra.
The apex court’s three-judge bench restored the earlier position of the law by recalling two of its older directions in the 20 March 2018 verdict, which diluted the provisions of arrest under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
Removing Granting of Anticipatory Bail:
The previous judgment removed bar on granting anticipatory bail to accused and added a provision under which prior inquiry was necessary before the arrest of a public servant and private individual under the Act.
However, the Supreme Court’s larger bench said that the directions in the older verdict may delay the investigation of cases under the Act.
Criticising the verdict which provided for prior sanction from the appointing authority before the arrest of a public servant under the SC/ST Act, the bench said that it is contrary to legislative intent and not at all statutorily envisaged.
Approval from SSP before Arrest:
The top court also expressed displeasure with another direction which provided for seeking approval of Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) prior to the arrest of a private individual under the Act.
The appointing authority is hardly expected to give in writing permission to arrest his junior. If the appointing authority happens to be of the same caste or if the employee concerned enjoys a good rapport with him, he may not give permission at all.
Political pressure may also be brought on the appointing authority or the SSP not to give permission to arrest the accused.
We are of the considered opinion that requiring the approval of SSP before an arrest is not warranted in such a case as that would be discriminatory and against the protective discrimination envisaged under the SC/ST Act.
Filing FIR and Preliminary Enquiry:
With regard to the direction of a prior probe before registering the FIR, the top court said: In case a cognisable offence is made out, the FIR has to be out rightly registered, and no preliminary inquiry has to be made as held.
There is no such provision in the CrPC for preliminary inquiry or under the SC/ST Act, as such direction is impermissible.
The older version of the now annulled order dealt with false cases lodged under , but the SC/ST Act, which was the basis of March 2018 verdict, and said:
“There is no presumption that the members of the SCs/STs may misuse the provisions of law as a class and it is not resorted to by the members of the upper Castes or the members of the elite class”.
In the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, Parliament had clearly noted that when Dalits assert their rights, vested interests try to terrorise them.
Accordingly, keeping in view the special nature of crimes against Dalits, anticipatory bail was excluded.
Parliamentary standing committees demand for an inbuilt provision in defence of accuse must be considered to balance the rights of SCs/STs vis a vis Innocents and reforms in criminal justice system must also be undertaken alongside to ameliorate the concerns regarding conviction rates.
The Supreme Court can lay down guidelines only in cases of legislative gaps. But where the field is occupied by parliamentary legislation, the judiciary is bound by the text of law.