ST/ST Act: SC rejects govt's plea to stay its verdict; all you need to know

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday rejected the Centre's demand for a stay on its verdict on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 or SC/ST Act and said it favoured "100 per cent" the protection of the rights of these communities and punishing those guilty of atrocities against them. The Centre had earlier today demanded a stay on SC order on SC/ST Act. The debate in the matter will continue on May 16, according to media reports. 

What is SC/SC Act?

The SC/ST Act protects people belonging to those communities against any discrimination and atrocities. On March 20, the Supreme Court ruled that there was no absolute bar on granting an anticipatory bail under the Act. The apex court said that to prevent the harassment of government servants it was prudent to have a high ranking officer to first ascertain whether the facts add up to demand an arrest. 

The March 20 judgement had also banned immediate arrest on the basis of complaints of atrocities against Dalits, and had said that only those complaints, which are found to be ‘absurd’ or ‘absolutely frivolous’ would be investigated, reported The Hindu

SC had further added that preliminary enquiry is not mandatory in all the complaints filed under anti-Dalit atrocities law, but an arrest can only be made after conducting a preliminary enquiry, added the English daily. 

ALSO READ: Supreme Court declines to keep in abeyance March 20 SC/ST verdict

No sanction, no arrest

The SC judgement had further spelt out that prior sanction must be taken from the concerned authority before arresting any government official. If the accused is a private individual, prior permission must be sought from the deputy commissioner, added the SC, according to media reports.

SC rejects Centre's plea

The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected the Centre's demand for a stay on its verdict on the SC/ST Act and also strongly disagreed with the Centre's contention that its March 20 verdict had led to the loss of lives in the violence that had broken out later in several states.

However, a bench of Justices Adarsh Goel and U U Lalit refused to stay the verdict and said various aspects and earlier judgements of the top court were considered before arriving at this conclusion.

"It's not that the judgement says there shall be no registration of crime. It's not that accused shall not be arrested. The safeguards were for the purpose that a person should not be readily arrested or an innocent punished because there was no provision of anticipatory bail under the SC/ST Act," the bench said.

The apex court had on March 20 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.

While hearing the Centre's review plea on April 3, the top court had asserted that "no provisions of SC/ST Act have been diluted" and clarified that additional safeguards had been put in place "to protect the fundamental rights" of innocents.

SC clears air on anticipatory bail

The top court said under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, theoretically a person cannot get anticipatory bail, but soon after his arrest, he can get regular bail even in offences where the punishment is just six months.

"The anticipatory bail provision was not there in laws like TADA and MCOCA, where the offences were supposed to be of greater magnitude. If there is a grave offence, this judgement will not come in the way of arrest," the bench said.

It clarified that the court has not asked for non-registration of an FIR for the offences under the SC/ST Act, but sought verification before registration of FIR, so that innocents do not get penalised.

Why is Centre seeking stay on Supreme Court order on SC/SC Act?

The Centre, represented by Attorney General K K Venugopal, sought a stay on the Supreme Court order in the matter, saying the apex court cannot make rules or guidelines which go against the law passed by the legislature.

The Centre had moved the apex court on April 2 seeking review of its judgement by which safeguards were put on the provisions for immediate arrest under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

ALSO READ: Dilution of SC/ST Act can erode faith in judiciary: Amnesty

In his written submission filed in the top court, the Attorney General had said that the verdict has "diluted" the stringent provisions of the Act, resulting in "great damage" to the country by causing anger and a sense of disharmony among the people.

The government, in its review petition, has told the apex court that its judgement would violate Article 21 of the Constitution for the SC/ST community and sought restoration of the provisions of the Act.

What the Supreme Court had said (in a glance):

  • "We have only reiterated settled law of arrest", says Supreme Court.
  • The apex court said that provisions of SC/ST Act cannot be used to terrorise the innocents. 
  • The court said that people who are agitating have not read the verdict properly and have been misled by vested interests.
  • SC said it has not diluted any provision of SC/ST Act and only safeguarded interest of innocents from being arrested.

Several states were rocked by widespread violence and clashes following a 'Bharat Bandh' call given by several SC/ST organisations protesting the top court's March 20 order that claimed at least 10 lives.

Called by Dalit groups, Bharat Bandh saw people across the country protesting the apparent dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Prevention of Atrocities Act by the Supreme Court recently. 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. 

Move gathered support of Opposition

The Bharat Bandh call was supported by nearly all Opposition parties, which, along with Dalit organisations and Dalit members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, had criticised the SC order on the SC/ST Act and asked the Centre to file a review petition. While the BJP accused Opposition parties of politicising the issue and contributing to the violence, the Opposition alleged that in several places, particularly in Agra and Gwalior, it was BJP workers who attacked protesters. The Congress, for its part, said that the Centre had taken the Bharat bandh call "lightly", which resulted in the violence. 

With agency inputs

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