Supreme Court Recalls Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 Dilution Verdict

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Last year Apex Court delivered the verdict of Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State of Maharashtra virtually diluting the provisions of the Atrocities Act. The decision was decried by Dalit groups calling for a Bharat Bandh. Acting swiftly an Amendment Bill was passed by the Parliament restoring the bar against anticipatory bail and nullifying the apex court verdict.

In this Article we will understand the case of Union of India v State of Maharashtra popularly called as SC/ST Recall Verdict. It is a review petition preferred by the Union against the decision of Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State of Maharashtra which read limitations into the Act not expressly provided. Review petition also heard the challenge against the Amendment Act.

Object and Reason of the Act

Statute provides legislative intendment in its object and reason. It states “of late, there has been an increase in the disturbing trend of the commission of certain atrocities like making the Scheduled Caste persons ear inedible substances, like human excreta and attacks on and mass killings of helpless Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and rape of women belonging to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. Under the circumstances, the existing laws like the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955 and the normal provisions of the Indian Penal Code have been found to be inadequate to check these crimes” It adds following reasons:-

  1. Despite various measures to improve the socio­economic conditions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, they remain vulnerable. They are denied number of civil rights. They are subjected to various offences, indignities, humiliations, and harassment, been deprived of their life and property.  Serious crimes are committed against them for various historical, social, and economic reasons.
  2. When they assert their rights and resist practices of untouchability against them or demand statutory minimum wages or refuse to do any bonded and forced labour, the vested interests try to cow them down and terrorise them.
  3. When the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes try to preserve their self­respect or honour of their women, they become irritants for the dominant and the mighty.
  4. Occupation and cultivation of even the Government allotted land by the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is resented and more often these people become victims of attacks by the vested interests

To address above inequities, Act was formulated providing Protective Discrimination under the cover of Article 15(4).

Limitations Inserted

In  Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State of Maharashtra Supreme Court while noting the “clear abuse of process of court” passed following guidelines limiting the purport and intent of the Act:-

  1. There is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.
  2. 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.
  • 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.
  1. Any violation of directions will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.

Review Judgment

The Court primarily provided three reasons for its recall:

  1. The directions were issued under Court’s extraordinary powers under Article 142, which is to be exercised only when there is a legislative vacuum or lack of clarity in the existing provisions of legislation. The Court in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan was not confronted with either of these scenarios

“We do not doubt that directions encroach upon the field reserved for the legislature and against the concept of protective discrimination in favour of downtrodden classes under Article 15(4) of the Constitution and also impermissible within the parameters laid down by this Court for exercise of powers under Article 142 of Constitution of India”

  1. Directions introduced new fetters on registration of FIRs and making arrests under the Act. Such fetters were even more onerous than those found under the general law – Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. This amounted to the unequal treatment of the members of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities
  2. Most of the directions were impractical

The Court also pointed to the impracticality of the directions. For instance, if a public servant has to be arrested, the approval of the appointing authority has to be obtained first. This will unduly delay the arrest. Moreover, the approving authority would not in most cases be fully informed of the facts of the case to provide a reasoned opinion on whether or not the arrest has to be made

Conclusion

The Legislature intended to bring in certain remedial measures to safeguard the victims, who suffered due to the backwardness and due to the fact that they belong to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Community. A beneficial piece of legislation must be interpreted in a purposive manner which would effectuate the object of the welfare legislation and the Court must always lean in favour of applying the beneficial measures that have been given to victims.

 

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