Supreme Court Recalls 2018 Judgement that Diluted Provisions of SC/ST Act
A controversial 2018 judgement limited the provisions of the SC/ST Act. The Supreme Court has now reversed that judgement, recalling the Act to its original powers.
The Supreme Court today allowed a Review Petition filed by the Central Government against a Division Bench judgement that had diluted the provisions of the SC/ST Act.
The judgement in question was rendered in March 2018, by Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit.
The order had introduced safeguards, intended to prevent the misuse of the Act against officers who deal with complaints under the Act in their official capacity.
This judgement was reviewed by a three-judge bench consisting of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah, and BR Gavai today.
Recalling the Division bench judgement, the three-judge bench held that the struggles of SC/ST communities are still a problem throughout India; and that untouchability and caste abuse still render them to be social outcasts even after 70 years of independence.
The Court called the misuse of the Act a human failure, rather than a problem with the law.
Three directions in particular within the Division Bench judgement now stand set aside:
iii) In view of acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Atrocities Act, arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.
iv) To avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.
v) Any violation of direction (iii) and (iv) will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.
Essentially, the above provisions of the judgement boiled down to this - The Court believed there was rampant misuse of the clauses under the SC/ST Act. As such, the judgement had struck down the provisions that allowed for immediate arrest upon the filing of a complaint under the Act.
It allowed for a Deputy Superintendent of Police to conduct a preliminary enquiry before an arrest is made under the act, negating the provision of immediate arrest. This provision was considered fundamental to the ambit of the SC/ST Act, as it would allow for the immediate protection of an aggrieved person. However, the Court struck it down on the logic that frivolous allegations could be made against innocent people.
The Division Bench had said that on "several occasions", innocent citizens were being termed as accused, and public servants were being deterred from performing their duties, which was never the intention of the legislature while enacting the Act.
This verdict had led to massive protests and outcry from SC/ST organisations across India. In response to this, Parliament passed an Amendment to the Scheduled Casts and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, neutralising the effects of the judgement.
Despite the Amendment, the Supreme Court has now said that the need for a preliminary enquiry as such is not in consonance with the Act. Furthermore, it held that the provisions of protection and equality granted under Article 15 of the Constitution must necessarily protect SC/ST people as well.