The apex court's March 20, 2018 verdict had led to a massive outcry and protests by different SC/ST organisations across India after which Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 to neutralize the effects of the judgement.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday criticised the verdict delivered by its two-judge bench last year virtually diluting provisions of arrest under the SC/ST Act, and asked whether a judgement could be passed against the spirit of the Constitution.
Indicating that it would pass certain directions to “bring in equality” as per the provisions of law, the top court said people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are subjected to “discrimination” and “untouchability” even after over 70 years of Independence.
Taking a serious view of manual scavenging situation and deaths of SC/ST people engaged in such work, the top court said nowhere in the world people are sent to “gas chambers to die”.
A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M R Shah and B R Gavai reserved its verdict on the Centre’s plea seeking review of the March 20, 2018 verdict and asked the parties to file their written submissions by next week.
“It is against the spirit of the Constitution. Can an order be passed against the statute and the Constitution just because there is abuse of law? Can you doubt any person on the basis of caste? Even general category person can file false FIR,” the bench said.
The top court told Attorney General K K Venugopal, appearing for the Centre, that it has been over 70 years since Independence but the government has not been able to protect the SC/ST people and they are subjected to “discrimination” and “untouchability”.
It also took critical view of the basis of the 2018 verdict, by which the two-judge bench had directed that a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by a DSP-rank officer to find out whether the allegations qualify for a case under the SC/ST Act and whether the allegations are frivolous or motivated.
“You should make a protective provision. This is not the law which the Constitution has contemplated that a person belonging to SC/ST will go to police station to lodge an FIR and the police will say no FIR will be lodged without inquiry.
“In case of general category persons, the complaint is lodged but in case of SC/ST persons, they will say prior inquiry is needed. Is this the law contemplated under the Constitution,” it said.
The bench said there may be hundred of false cases under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) but there are no such riders like that of prior inquiry under the law.
Venugopal said the 2018 judgement was not in consonance with the Constitution.
“We will pass certain directions to bring in equality,” the bench said and reserved its verdict on the Centre’s review plea.
It made clear that batch of petitions challenging the new amendments made in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act will be heard on September 25.
On September 13, the top court had referred to a three-judge bench the Centre’s plea, which was filed nearly 18 months ago, seeking review of its judgement which had virtually diluted the provisions of arrest under the SC/ST Act.
The apex court’s March 20, 2018 verdict had led to a massive outcry and protests by different SC/ST organisations across India after which Parliament passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 to neutralize the effects of the judgement.
In the verdict, the apex court had taken note of the rampant misuse of the stringent SC/ST Act against government servants and private individuals and said there would be no immediate arrest on any complaint filed under the law.
It had said on “several occasions”, innocent citizens were being termed as accused and public servants deterred from performing their duties, which was never the intention of the legislature while enacting the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The apex court had said that 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 the complaint is found to be prima facie malafide.
It had said that in view of the 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 Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP).