SC reserves orders on Centre’s review plea against SC/ST Act dilution

Updated - September 18, 2019 09:50 pm IST

Published - September 18, 2019 04:38 pm IST - NEW DELHI

A view of the Supreme Court of India, in New Delhi. File

A view of the Supreme Court of India, in New Delhi. File

The Supreme Court on Wednesday reserved orders on a review petition filed by the government against a March 20, 2018 judgment allowing anticipatory bail to persons accused of committing atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

The March 20 verdict had reasoned that the anti-atrocities law was misused by some members of the community as a means for “blackmail”.

A three-judge Bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M.R. Shah and B.R. Gavai heard the review petition, which was referred to it by a two-judge Bench.

A huge public backlash followed the verdict. Several people died in protests and property worth crores of rupees were destroyed. The government then filed the review petition and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back to its original form last year.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018 nullified the March 20 judgment of the Supreme Court, which allowed anticipatory bail to those booked for committing atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes members. The original 1989 Act bars anticipatory bail.

Several petitions were filed last year challenging the Amendment Act. The three-judge Bench has scheduled these petitions for hearing next week.

The lead petitioner, advocate Prithvi Raj Chauhan, has even called the amendments a “blunder” and a violation of the fundamental right to equality and personal liberty. The Supreme Court, however, had refused to stay the implementation of the amendments.

The Centre has argued in the court that the amendments were necessary as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes would continue to face the same social stigma, poverty and humiliation that they had been subjected to for centuries.

The government said there was no decrease in the atrocities committed on members of SC/ST communities despite the laws meant to protect their civil rights.

It said the sad state of affairs was prevalent despite the existence of 195 special courts across 14 States to exclusively try Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) cases. As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, there is no decrease in the crimes against SC/ST members. The number of cases registered under the PoA in 2014 is 47124, while in 2015 it is 44839 and 47,338 in 2016.

In 2014, 28.8% of the cases were convicted, 71.2% acquittal and 85.3% cases pending. The next year saw 25.8% convictions, 74.2% acquittals and 87.3% pendency. In 2016, there was 24.9% convictions, 75.1% acquittals and 89.3% pendency.

“The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 is the least which the country owes to this section of the society who have been denied several civil rights since generations and have been subjected to indignities and humiliations,” the government argued.

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