‘Government has to implement provisions of the SC & ST Act’
In a setback to the forest force, the State government on Wednesday informed the Karnataka High Court that it cannot provide any “immunity” to officials of the Department of Forests from being “falsely” prosecuted under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by persons accused of forest land encroachment, poaching and smuggling.
State Advocate-General S. Vijay Shankar made submissions in this regard during the hearing of a public interest litigation (PIL) petition initiated suo motu by the High Court on the issue of false complaints filed by accused persons against forest officials under the provisions of the Act.
The court had initiated the PIL petition based on a plea by the Karnataka State Range Forest Officers Association and the Karnataka State Assistant Conservators of Forests Association.
It was complained that during the past one year, in a majority of cases booked by forest officials against those indulging in encroachment of forest land, poaching, timber smuggling, etc., the offenders had subsequently lodged counter-complaints with the police under the Act against forest officials.
“The government cannot direct the Home Department not to register case against forest officials under the SC and ST Act. It is the State government which has to implement the provisions of the SC and ST Act, which is a Central legislation,” Mr. Shankar argued pointing out that the petition cannot be treated as in “public interest” as it was related to private interest of forest officials.
Can seek bail
Mr. Shankar also submitted that the forest officials, against whom cases under the Act were registered by the jurisdictional police, would have to approach the jurisdictional court either seeking bail or anticipatory bail, while making it clear that forest officials probing forest offences cannot be granted “immunity.”
However, K.N. Phanindra, court-appointed amicus curiae, pointed out that the issue taken up in the suo motu petition was of public interest as the provision of a law was being misused against officers of the State by the accused persons.
Mr. Phanindra insisted that the contentions raised by the Advocate-General be submitted to the court in form of a statement by the government.
Interestingly, during earlier hearing on December 13, 2012, the government had informed the court that it would submit a draft notification to grant relief or immunity to forest officials who had taken action against any person belonging to SC or ST community, from being prosecuted by such accused persons.
This submission was made on behalf of the government when the court asked what step was taken to protect forest officials, probing forest offence cases, when a large number of cases under the Act were filed against such officials.
A Division Bench comprising acting Chief Justice K. Sreedhar Rao and Justice B.V. Nagarathna adjourned further hearing by three weeks.
The Bench on Wednesday adjourned to January 28 the hearing of PIL petitions seeking a direction to the government to make appointment to the post of the Lokayuktha, as the Advocate-General said that the government requires some time to study recent verdict of the Supreme Court and begin the process of appointments to be posts of the Lokayukta and the Upalokayukta.
In another case, the Bench set aside transfer of presidents of district consumer redressal forums of Koppal, Hassan and Kodagu for the reason that the government transferred them bypassing the committee headed by the president of the Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
The court also noted that one of them, Prakash Kumar, president of the Bellary forum, had exerted pressure for transfer through high State functionaries, while referring to recommendation for his transfer made by a former MLA to the then Chief Minister, who’s office, in turn, referred it to the Department of Consumer Affairs. The Bench directed for filling up the vacant posts in these forums as per the notification issued by the commission. Some aspirants to the posts in these districts had challenged the transfers.