SC recalls verdict diluting SC/ST anti-atrocities law

"Constitution provides for protection of SC/ST people but they still face discrimination"

October 01, 2019 12:30 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 10:41 pm IST - New Delhi

NEW DELHI, 08/08/2019: A view of Supreme Court of India, in New Delhi on August 8, 2019. Photo by Shiv Kumar Pushpakar / The Hindu

NEW DELHI, 08/08/2019: A view of Supreme Court of India, in New Delhi on August 8, 2019. Photo by Shiv Kumar Pushpakar / The Hindu

Correcting an error of judgment, the Supreme Court on Tuesday recalled its March 20, 2018 verdict, which bent the written law to protect persons accused of committing atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.

On March 20, a judgment by Justice (now retired) A.K. Goel diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, to grant anticipatory bail to accused persons and directed that the police should conduct a preliminary enquiry on whether complaint under the 1989 law is “frivolous or motivated” before registering a case. 

Both conditions were not part of the original legislation.

 Justice Goel reasoned that the law was misused.

Justice Goel had reasoned that members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) use the 1989 law to lodge false complaints, leading to the arrest of innocent persons.

The March 20 judgment had triggered widespread protests and violence and compelled the government to amend the Act to negate the effect of the apex court ruling. The Centre also filed a review against the judgment.

Blames human failing

In its judgment on the government’s review petition, a three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M.R. Shah and B.R. Gavai reasoned that human failing and not caste is the reason behind the lodging of false criminal complaints.

The Supreme Court condemned its own earlier judgment, saying it was against “basic human dignity” to treat all SC/ST community members as “a liar or crook.”

Caste of a person cannot be a cause for lodging a false report, Justice Mishra, who wrote the verdict, observed.

Members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, due to backwardness, cannot even muster the courage to lodge an FIR, much less, a false one, the judgment noted.

‘Untouchability exists’

This is a nation where “we have not been able to provide the modern methods of scavenging to Harijans due to lack of resources and proper planning and apathy”, Justice Mishra wrote.

“Untouchability though intended to be abolished, has not vanished in the last 70 years. We are still experimenting with ‘tryst with destiny'… condition is worse in the villages, remote areas where the fruits of development have not percolated down,” the court said.

It is time for some soul-searching, Justice Mishra advised.

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