Supreme Court of India.
Supreme Court of India.

SC recalls its verdict that diluted SC/ST Act

ANI | Updated: Oct 01, 2019 19:11 IST

New Delhi [India], Oct 1 (ANI): The Supreme Court on Tuesday recalled its earlier order that diluted the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, while restoring automatic arrest in such cases.
Hearing on a review petition filed by the Centre, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah, and BR Gavai recalled its directions issued by a two-judge bench last year and allowed the Centre's review petition which said the court shouldn't have ventured to frame guidelines as it was in the domain of the legislature.
The court had on March 20, 2018, held that there will be no automatic arrest on a complaint filed under the SC/ST Act and arrest of public servants can only be made after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the SSP.
It had ordered a preliminary probe by the police before arrest saying public servant or non-public person could be arrested in cases lodged under the SC/ST Act only after prior approval by the competent authority.
The bench in its judgment said it cannot be disputed that as the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have "suffered for long" and the protective discrimination has been envisaged under Article 15 of the Constitution of India and the provisions of the Act of the SC/ST to make them equals.
As to prevailing conditions in various areas of the country, we are compelled to observe that SCs/STs are "still making the struggle for equality and for exercising civil rights" in various areas of the country, the bench observed.
It further said that the members of the SC/ST are "still discriminated" against in various parts of the country and in spite of reservation, the fruits of development have not reached them, by and large, they remain "unequal and vulnerable section of the society".
The court in its verdict also stated that the classes of SC/STs have been suffering ignominy and abuse, and they have been outcast socially for the centuries and the efforts for their upliftment should have been percolated down to eradicate their sufferings.
"Though, Article 17 of the Constitution prohibits untouchability, whether untouchability has vanished? We have to find the answer to all these pertinent questions in the present prevailing social scenario in different parts of the country. The clear answer is that untouchability though intended to be abolished has not vanished in the last 70 years. We are still experimenting with 'tryst with destiny'," the bench observed.
It added, "The plight of untouchables is that they are still denied various civil rights; the condition is worse in the villages, remote areas where fruits of development have not percolated down. They cannot enjoy equal civil rights. So far, we have not been able to provide the modern methods of scavenging to Harijans due to a lack of resources and proper planning and apathy."
The apex court said that the country has not been able to eradicate untouchability in a real sense as envisaged and we have not been able to provide downtrodden class the fundamental civil rights and amenities, frugal comforts of life which make life worth living.
It said that under Article 21, the right to life includes the right to live with dignity, and basic human dignity implies that all the persons are treated as equal human in all respects and not treated as an untouchable, downtrodden, and object for exploitation.
"It also implies that they are not meant to be born for serving the elite class based upon the caste. The caste discrimination had been deeprooted, so the consistent effort is on to remove it, but still, we have to achieve the real goal. No doubt we have succeeded partially due to individual and collective efforts. There is right to live with dignity and also right to die with dignity," the verdict stated.
The bench further observed that there is no presumption that the members of the SC/ST may misuse the provisions of law as a class and it is not resorted to by the members of the upper Castes or the members of the elite class.
The court also said if a case is found to be false/unsubstantiated, it may be due to the faulty investigation or for other various reasons including human failings irrespective of caste factor, adding that there may be certain cases which may be false that can be a ground for interference by the Court, but the law cannot be changed due to such misuse.

The bench took into note the data of the National Crime Records Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, pointed out on behalf of the Union of India which indicates that more than 47,000 cases were registered in the year 2016 under the SC/ST Act. But the court said the number is alarming, and it cannot be said that it is due to the outcome of the misuse of the provisions of the Act.
"Eyewitnesses do not come up to speak in their favour. They hardly muster the courage to speak against the upper caste, that is why provisions have been made by way of amendment for the protection of witnesses and rehabilitation of victims. All humans are equal including in their frailing."
The court also noted that it is an unfortunate state of affairs that the caste system still prevails in the country and people remain in slums, more particularly, under skyscrapers, and they serve the inhabitants of such buildings.
The Centre had filed a review petition following outrage by the SC/ST community against the court order.
However, later the Centre had made amendments in the Act to overcome the top court's order diluting the provision of arrest under the law. The implementation of the amendment in the law was not stayed by the top court.

The top court is also seized of a bunch of pleas opposing amendments to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2018, passed by the Parliament, that rule out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs.
The pleas alleged that Parliament had "arbitrarily" decided to amend the law.
The amendments provide that no preliminary inquiry would be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval. (ANI)

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