The apex court noted that “the members of the SC/ST have suffered for long; the protective discrimination has been envisaged under Article 15 of the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Act of 1989 to make them equals.”
The Supreme Court on Tuesday recalled its earlier 2018 order that barred automatic arrest in cases registered under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989.
This means the ban on automatic arrest under the Atrocities Act and the need for mandated prior sanction for arrest of public servants and private individuals for violation of the law stand withdrawn. Even the preliminary enquiry “to avoid false implication of an innocent” will no longer be required for the registering of an FIR.
While allowing the Centre’s review petition against its 2018 order diluting provisions of the SC/ST Act, a three-judge Bench led by Justice Arun Mishra said that the creation of a casteless society is the ultimate aim. “We conclude with a pious hope that a day would come, as expected by the framers of the Constitution, when we do not require any such legislation like Act of 1989, and there is no need to provide for any reservation to SCs/STs/OBCs, and only one class of human exist equal in all respects and no caste system or class of SCs/STs or OBCs exist, all citizens are emancipated and become equal as per Constitutional goal,” it said.
The apex court noted that “the members of the SC/ST have suffered for long; the protective discrimination has been envisaged under Article 15 of the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Act of 1989 to make them equals.” “All the offences under the Atrocities Act are cognizable. The impugned directions put the riders on the right to arrest,” it added.
According to the judges, the March “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…”
It said that the direction to conduct a preliminary by a DSP-rank officer to ensure that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated for registering an offence under the 1989 Atrocities Act “cannot survive for the other reasons as it puts the members of the SC and ST in a disadvantageous position in the matter of procedure viz a viz to the complaints lodged by the members of upper caste, for later no such preliminary investigation is necessary…”
The Tuesday’s order came on a petition filed by the Centre seeking review of its 2018 judgment. The ruling comes as a huge relief to the government which had requested the top court to recall its earlier order that was seen as dilution of the provisions of the law that was meant to protect dalits. The last year’s decision had led to huge protests by the SC/ST community, thus prompting the Narendra Modi government also to amend the law to negate the March 2018 verdict and bring back the stringent conditions stipulated in the 1989 law.
A two-judge bench in March had held that the SC/ST law against the government servants was being misused and there would be no immediate arrests when complaints of harassment of Dalits were received and an FIR could be filed only after an initial probe by a panel of officers. The SC last year had laid down safeguards to stop misuse of the SC/ST Act by “vested interests” for political and personal reasons. It had said that arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police. The guidelines included a provision for anticipatory bail and a PE to determine if a case was made out before registration of FIR under the SC/ST Act.
Seeking recall of a judgement that diluted provisions of the anti-atrocities law, the Centre had argued that it has resulted into “great damage” to the country and the same can be corrected by revoking the changes made to the Act.
The March 20 judgement “dealing with an issue of very sensitive nature caused a lot of commotion, anger, unease and a sense of disharmony… the confusion created by this judgement may have to be corrected by reviewing it and recalling the directions,” Attorney General KK Venugopal had said.
He said that the SC has been misled into thinking it has the power to legislate while diluting the arrest provision in SC/ST Act “leading to confusion and unrest in the country.”