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Supreme Court upholds changes to SC/ST atrocities law

Topics Covered: Social empowerment and Indian society.

Supreme Court upholds changes to SC/ST atrocities law

What to study?

For Prelims: What is Anticipatory bail? Supreme Court Judgment, over of SC/ST atrocities law.

For Mains: Concerns over misuse, impact of Supreme Court ruling, implications and way ahead.

What’s the issue?

The Supreme Court has upheld a 2018 amendment which barred persons accused of committing atrocities against those belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes from getting anticipatory bail. The Court upheld the constitutionality of Section 18A of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018. The sole purpose of Section 18A was to nullify a controversial March 20, 2018, judgment of the Supreme Court diluting the stringent anti-bail provisions of the original Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.

Views of the Court:

  • A High Court would also have an “inherent power” to grant anticipatory bail in cases in which prima facie an offence under the anti-atrocities law is not made out.
  • Besides, a High Court, in “exceptional cases”, could also quash cases to prevent the misuse of the anti-atrocities law.
  • However, the courts should take care to use this power to grant anticipatory bail “only sparingly and in very exceptional cases”. It should not become a norm lest it leads to miscarriage of justice and abuse of the process of law.

 What’s there in the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018?

  1. A preliminary inquiry is not essential before lodging an FIR under the act and the approval of senior police officials is not needed.
  2. There is no provision for anticipatory bail to the accused being charged with SC/ST Act.

 Why stringent provisions against SC/ST atrocities are necessary?

Such stringent terms, otherwise contrary to the philosophy of bail, are absolutely essential, because a liberal use of the power to grant pre-arrest bail would defeat the intention of Parliament.

The express provisions of the Constitution and statutes like the Act, meant to protect the oppressed classes, underline the social or collective resolve to ensure that “all humans are treated as humans, that their innate genius is allowed outlets through equal opportunities and each of them is fearless in the pursuit of her or his dreams”.

Way ahead:

Unless provisions of the Act (anti-atrocities law) are enforced in their true letter and spirit, with utmost earnestness and dispatch, the dream and ideal of a casteless society will remain only a dream, a mirage. The marginalisation of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities is an enduring exclusion and is based almost solely on caste identities.


In March 2018, Supreme Court diluted the stringent provisions of SC/ST Act (Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra).

The verdict saw a huge backlash across the country. The government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back to its original form.

Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and rationale behind it:

Supreme court gave the judgement on the pretext that Innocents cannot be terrorised by the provisions of the SC/ST Act and their fundamental rights need to be protected.

  • The court said that public servants could be arrested only with the written permission of their appointing authority.
  • In the case of private employees, the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it.
  • A preliminary inquiry should be conducted before the FIR was registered to check if the case fell within the ambit of the Act, and whether it was frivolous or motivated, the court ruled.

Why this decision?

The court referred to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2015, which said that closure reports had been filed in 15-16 percent of the complaints under the Act.

  • Over 75% of such cases taken up by the courts had resulted in acquittals/ withdrawal or compounding of the cases.
  • Therefore, there was a need to safeguard innocent citizens against false implication and unnecessary arrest for which there is no sanction under the law.


Sources: the Hindu.