Syllabus subtopic: Government Policies and Interventions for Development in various sectors and Issues arising out of their Design and Implementation.
Prelims and Mains focus: about the court’s ruling; about SC/ST act and amendments to it; arguements against the amendments
News: The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of amendments made in 2018 to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The amendments were brought to nullify the effect of the top court’s March 20, 2018 judgment in the Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs State of Maharashtra & Another case. In it, the SC took serious note of “instances of abuse” of the 1986 law by “vested interests” for political or personal reasons, and laid down stringent safeguards, including provision for anticipatory bail and a “preliminary inquiry” before registering a case under the SC/ST Act.
What were those amendments?
- It said that a police officer investigating a case under the law will not require prior sanction for arresting an accused.
- It also said the provision of anticipatory bail will not apply to cases under the Act.
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
- The SC/ST Act was enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
- It was enacted when the provisions of the existing laws (such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and Indian Penal Code) were found to be inadequate to check these crimes (defined as 'atrocities' in the Act). Recognising the continuing gross indignities and offences against Scheduled Castes and Tribes, the Parliament passed the Act.
Objectives of the Act
- to deliver justice to these communities through proactive efforts to enable them to live in society with dignity and self-esteem and without fear or violence or suppression from the dominant castes.
- The practice of untouchability, in its overt and covert form was made a cognizable and non compoundable offence, and strict punishment is provided for any such offence.
- Section 23(1) of the Act authorises the Central Government to frame rules for carrying out the purpose of the Act. Drawing power from this section, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules of 1995 were framed. The rules for the Act were notified on 31 March 1995.
- The purpose of the Act was to help the social inclusion of Dalits into Indian society, but the Act has failed to live up to its expectations admitted by the Union Minister for Home Affairs in parliament on 30 August 2010.
- A number of cases of misuse of this Act has been reported from different parts of the country as mentioned in the Supreme Court verdict of 20 March 2018. In this verdict, the Supreme Court of India banned immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member to protect innocents from arbitrary arrest.
SC/ST amendment Act, 2018
- In August, 2018, the parliament of India passed the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018, to bypass the ruling of the Supreme Court of India laying down procedures for arrests under the Act.
- The bill inserts section 18A (1) (a) in the 1989 Act, that says a “preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of an FIR against any person.”
- The Bill also inserts Section 18A (1) (b), which says “the investigating officer shall not require approval for the arrest, if necessary, of any person against whom an accusation of having committed an offence under this Act has been made and no procedure, other than that provided under this Act or the Code, shall apply.”
Arguements against the 2018 amendments to the Act
- The act violates “basic principles of liberty and accountability” after the amendments. According to a plea filed in the Supreme Court, “the Supreme Court cannot remain a mute spectator to the abuse of law as we are living in a civilised society and there were many growing instances of misuse of this act.
- The new law could be used to harass citizens by arresting them on the basis of mere allegations.
- The amendment excludes Section 438 of CrPC, violates constitutional mandate under Articles 14 and 21.
- The amendments rule out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, notwithstanding any court order.