The SC had last month abolished certain provisions under the law. Besides introducing anticipatory bail provision for the accused, the court had said that prior approval from certain authority would be must to arrest a public servant.
Facing flak from different quarters over the dilution of stringent provisions under the SC/ST Act by the Supreme Court, the government on Monday filed a review petition in the Supreme Court. In its plea, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment said that the court’s observation that the law could be misused doesn’t make ground valid for the abolishing the provisions. It said that striking down the law would deprive the SC/ST communities the rights promised under the Constitution.
Here’s what Centre told the court:
1. The Ministry said that potential misuse cannot be considered as a valid, justifiable or permissible ground for bringing changes in the law. The Ministry argued that such a principle would render the criminal law and criminal procedure system toothless and nugatory.
2. It also noted that the Parliament had in 2016 decided to make the law more stringent and included additional offences under the ambit of the law after considering the working of the Act.
3. The petition stated that such practice would not be in compliance with the settled demarcation of jurisdiction between the legislative functioning of the Parliament and the discharge of the judicial functions by rendering interpretations by the courts.
The law was amended by the government in 2015 to deliver speedy justice to the victims of SC/ST communities. The amended law came into effect on January 26, 2016. However, last month the Supreme Court passed an order abolishing certain provisions under the law. This includes banning automatic arrest of a government servant mere on the basis of a complaint. The apex court ruled that if the accused is a public servant, the case only be registered after a priliminary enquiry conducted by the DSP and if the accused is not a public servant, prior consent from the SSP would be mandatory.
4. Opposing this, the Centre’s plea said that the new rules will have wide ramifications. It said that the additional safeguards will make the law inefficient.
5. The Centre argued that there were procedural difficulties in implementing the court’s order as there may not be enough DSP-level officers in many states and UTs.
6. Further, the Centre said that in the given scenario, the court’s order for conducting a preliminary enquiry before arresting an official would delay the case further. It said that the judgement would make it easier for the accused to get away from arrest.
7. To the court’s order of introducing the provision of seeking anticipatory bail, the Centre said that Section 18 is the backbone of the law which instils a sense of protection in the victims. It said that diluting this will make the law inefficient and shake the objective. Section 18 of the Act prohibits an accused from seeking anticipatory bail.
8. The government contended that low conviction and high acquittal rate in cases are due to various factors like delay in filing FIR, witnesses or complainants turning hostile, absence of proper scrutiny of cases by the prosecution, lack of proper presentation by the prosecution, appreciation of evidence by the court.
9. The petition mentioned that offences affect the dignity and life of the people, hence FIR needs to be filed at the earliest in order to launch an investigation without providing any space for the accused to seek anticipatory bail. It said that safeguards introduced by the court like preliminary enquiry would further reduce the registration of cases and convictions as well.
10. The Centre also submitted data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) before the court to make its point. According to the to NCRB data, in 2016, 47,388 cases were registered under the Act. It noted that only 24% of the cases ended in conviction. By the end of 2016, 89.3% of the cases were pending in different courts.