Though the Supreme Court judgment on the Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was distorted by various political parties, as well as SC/ST groups, it was incumbent upon the government to explain to them that this was far from the truth. Indeed, given that the law was being abused, all that the Supreme Court did was to introduce some much-needed checks. According to the Court, the law was being used to “blackmail” innocent citizens and public servants, to extract ‘vengeance’ and to realise vested interests. So, while the Act provided for immediate arrest of the accused followed by judicial remand and barred even an anticipatory bail, the SC said that public servants who are alleged to have committed an offence under the Act could not be arrested until there was written permission from their appointing authority. In the case of private citizens, an arrest could only be made after being allowed by the senior superintendent of police; the Court also said there would be no absolute bar on anticipatory bail, though that was the law till then—in other words, all the Court did was to ensure there were very basic safeguards against abuse. Indeed, the fact that the conviction rate of people charged under the crime in 2016 was just a fourth suggests the safeguards were very much needed.
Instead of appreciating this, however, the government joined the outcry against the so-called dilution of the Atrocities Act and came up with a new Bill to undo the Court’s ruling and is hoping to get it passed in the current session of Parliament itself. The fact that the government is trying to undo a Supreme Court judgment through the Parliament is itself unfair since it makes a mockery of the judicial process of review—if a ruling by the Supreme Court is to be nullified by Parliament, why even have a judicial review? And now, as The Economic Times reports, it is possible the law may even be placed in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, to put it beyond the purview of the country’s courts. This, it appears, was the recommendation of a Group of Ministers under home minister Rajnath Singh, set up to review the issue after the Court ruling. Indeed, the minister for social justice also told ET that including the Act under the Ninth Schedule was something that was under consideration.
If this is indeed done, it would be most unfortunate. It was bad enough that the original law that was prone to abuse was being restored despite the Supreme Court ruling against it. The fact that the law is being kept outside the purview of the courts means that, should they wish to, the country’s citizens will no longer have the power to subject the new law to judicial scrutiny. Indeed, given just a tenth of the 144,000 cases tried in 2016 were completed in that year, the government would have done well to find ways to expedite trials since that is the best way to get justice for SC/STs. It has, instead, resorted to populist measures that will backfire in the long run if the abuse of the law continues in the manner the Supreme Court described.