In a bid to check the misuse of the SC/ST Act, the apex court had on March 20 ruled that preliminary enquiry in a case under the Atrocities Act would be done by a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) to ensure the allegations are not frivolous, and to avoid the false implication of an innocent person.
The court also held that a government official could not be prosecuted on the mere allegation of committing an offence under the Act without the sanction of the appointing authority.
On April 3 also, the Centre failed to convince the Supreme Court bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit to stay its direction considering the massive protests across the country that claimed nine lives.
The apex court said that it does not want any member of the SC/ST to be deprived of his/her rights, but only wants that an innocent should not be punished.
The March 20 judgment
The Supreme Court ruled that preliminary enquiry in a case under the Atrocities Act would be done by a Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) to ensure the allegations are not frivolous, and to avoid the false implication of an innocent.
While passing the order, the top court said that 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 SC/ST Act.
Appearing for the Centre, Attorney General K K Venugopal said the apex court cannot make rules or guidelines which go against the law passed by the legislature.
The top court, however, rejected the demand for a stay saying its judgment did not lead to the deaths and that law was only aimed at putting filter on immediate arrest.
"Our judgment did not incite any one to commit crime. Our judgment has been wrongly understood. The SC/ST community has full protection of this court," said Justice Goel refuting Venugopal's argument.
"We have made it clear that there is no bar on arrest if any other offence is committed. Judgement does not say there should be no F I R but the judgement simply puts a filter on immediate arrest," the bench hearing the petition said.
The Supreme Court will continue to hear matter on May 16.
The central government's stand
Post the ruling, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government and the BJP were committed to the welfare of SCs and STs.
He assured the communities that the government will argue the matter with full authority in the apex court for the verdict's reconsideration.
Congress has accused the Modi governement of failing to defend Dalit rights in the Supreme Court and asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to abdicate its duty to favour the "anti-Dalit mindset of BJP/RSS".
"The SC/ST Act is the most important instrument to prevent atrocities on Dalits and adivasis. A complicit Modi governmnet failed to defend it in the Supreme Court.
"The PM must not abdicate his duty in favour of the anti-Dalit mindset of the BJP/RSS," Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Twitter.
The opposition party has demanded the Centre bring an amendment to the said law in Parliament or file a "curative petition" in the apex court.
The Supreme Court ruling had led to widespread protests across the country, specially in northern states - Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh.
Several Dalit outfits called for a Bharat Bandh on April 2. The Bandh saw people across the country protesting the apparent dilution of the SC/ST Act by the Supreme Court. The protests left at least 10 dead and hundreds injured as incidents of violence were reported across several states on April 9, 2018. Protesters were reported to have blocked trains, clashed with the police, and set fire to private and public properties, including police posts.
About the SC/ST Act
The Act, also known as POA (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, was enacted in 1989 to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.