What is SC/ST Act: The Union Cabinet has given its approval for an amendment which will “nullify” the Supreme Court order on March 20 and also “remove any room for interpretation” by the courts.
What is SC/ST Act: In a bid to douse the controversy surrounding the much-debated SC/ST Act ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Narendra Modi government is bringing changes to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The Union Cabinet has given its approval for an amendment which will “nullify” the Supreme Court order on March 20 and also “remove any room for interpretation” by the courts, The Indian Express reported. The Centre’s move comes after agitating Dalit and Adivasi outfits called for a Bharat bandh on August 9 over the alleged dilution of the SC/ST law.
“The Narendra Modi government cares about the development of our Dalit and Adivasi brothers and will strive in that direction. We have done that before, and will do so going ahead,” Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said.
According to the report, the government believes that it and Parliament have full power to undo any Supreme Court judgment. “On that basis, we are undoing the wrong,” sources were quoted as saying by IE. “For instance, the matter of whether an accused in the SC/ ST Act is allowed anticipatory bail has been open to various interpretations by courts. To prevent that in future, we have suggested an amendment stating clearly it is not permitted,” sources told IE.
What is Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act?
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act or commonly known as SC/ST Act, is a law aimed at safeguarding members of SC, ST communities from any sort of “atrocities” and provides for the guilty to serve immediate imprisonment. Several sections of Indian Penal Code like section 34, section 149 and Chapter XXIII of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) are applicable for this Act.
The atrocities include forcing to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance, acts with intent to cause injury, insult or annoyance, forcibly removes clothes, wrongfully occupies or cultivates any land, assaulting, sexually exploiting and outraging the modesty of women by whoever outside of the community of Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe. The Act has also laid provision for Special Court under in section 14 for a speedy trial.
What SC order changed
The Supreme Court court had on March 20 passed a judgment prohibiting immediate arrests based on complaints of scheduled castes or tribes and mandated a seven-day preliminary enquiry. The Centre on April 3 filed a review petition against the apex court verdict and sought a stay on the operation of the judgment citing law-and-order problem in the country.
However, a bench of Justices Adarsh Goel and U U Lalit refused to stay the verdict. “It’s not that the judgement says there shall be no registration of crime. It’s not that accused shall not be arrested. The safeguards were for the purpose that a person should not be readily arrested or an innocent punished because there was no provision of anticipatory bail under the SC/ST Act,” the bench said.
The top court said under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, theoretically a person cannot get anticipatory bail, but soon after his arrest, he can get regular bail even in offences where the punishment is just six months. “The anticipatory bail provision was not there in laws like TADA and MCOCA, where the offences were supposed to be of greater magnitude. If there is a grave offence, this judgement will not come in the way of arrest,” the bench said.
What Centre plans to do now
The bill rules out any provision for an anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, notwithstanding any court order, while it also provides that no preliminary enquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval. The bill says a preliminary enquiry will not be required for registration of a criminal case (FIR) under this law and any arrest if necessary will not be subject to any approval.
The nationwide protest by Dalit groups on April 20 had turned violent in several states, leaving at least 12 dead. Dalit groups have been asking the government to overturn a Supreme Court ruling of March 20, saying it had “diluted” and rendered “toothless” the law against atrocities faced by the weakest sections of the society by putting additional safeguards against arrest of the accused.
The Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the TDP have on Thursday staged protests in the Lok Sabha demanding immediate introduction of the bill to strengthen the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. With several Dalit leaders from within the BJP and some of the NDA allies also voicing their support for necessary steps to ‘overturn’ the apex court ruling, the government now hopes to table the bill in Parliament during the ongoing session itself for passage.