Supreme Court stands by its SC/ST Act judgment

The court says it has only protected innocents from falling prey to arbitrary arrests under the Act.

Updated - December 01, 2021 12:23 pm IST

Published - April 03, 2018 03:47 pm IST - New Delhi

Morena: Police personnel patrol the streets after yesterday's violence in 'Bharat Bandh' against the alleged 'dilution' of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act, in Morena on Tuesday.

Morena: Police personnel patrol the streets after yesterday's violence in 'Bharat Bandh' against the alleged 'dilution' of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Act, in Morena on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday said its March 20 judgment, banning immediate arrest of a person accused of insulting or injuring a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member, is meant to protect innocents from arbitrary arrest and not an affront to Dalit rights.


The government, despite an urgent and open court hearing of its review petition, failed to convince a 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 on Monday.

‘There should not be terror in society’

“An innocent should not be punished. There should not be terror in society... We do not want any member of the SC/ST to be deprived of his rights. We only want an innocent not to be punished,” Justice Goel observed.

Justice Goel, who authored the verdict, said the judgment, in fact, fortified the Dalit protection law - the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.

“Our judgment implements what is said in the Constitution. We are conscious of the rights of the underprivileged and place them at the highest pedestal... but at the same time, an innocent person cannot be falsely implicated and arrested without proper verification. We have not stopped the implementation of the Act. Does the Act mandate the arrest of innocent persons? Our judgment is not against the Act,” Justice Goel addressed Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal. He called the judgement a ‘balance’ between Dalit rights and right of an innocent against arrest in a false case.


The judgement directs a “preliminary enquiry” to be conducted on whether a complaint filed by a Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe member is frivolous or not. An FIR would be registered only after the probe officer, Deputy Superintendent of Police, authenticates the complaint of casteist slur or crime.

Verification of claims

When Mr. Venugopal said such an enquiry would delay the grant of compensation mandated to victims under the Act, Justice Goel said grant of money from the public exchequer should be preceded by verification against false claims. This ‘preliminary enquiry’ served that purpose.


At one point, Justice Goel asked Mr. Venugopal how even the Attorney General could function if made a victim of a false complaint.

He said, “People who are agitating would not have read the order.”

Court’s amicus curiae and senior advocate Amrendra Sharan indicated that vested interests were fuelling the protests.

Mr. Venugopal said the people protected under the Act had faced tremendous deprivation over centuries and the judgement encroached on legislative terrain.

“But we are concerned with Article 21 [personal liberty], protection from arbitrary arrest,” Justice Goel replied.


Mr. Venugopal said personal liberty was subject to “procedure established by law”, and the law here was the 1989 Act, which had no provision for a preliminary enquiry.

Justice Goel countered that the law should be reasonable then, and not call for immediate arrest.

Mr. Venugopal challenged the logic by submitting that the danger of arbitrary arrest was spread across the penal law spectrum, and so, the mandate of a preliminary enquiry should not be confined to a complaint filed by a Dalit under the 1989 Act, but extended to all penal statutes.

Anticipatory bail

However, Mr. Venugopal did not challenge the court’s decision to allow the accused persons to apply for anticipatory bail, though this formed a major chunk of the government’s review petition filed on April 2.

The 1989 law, in fact, prohibits anticipatory bail, saying an accused on bail may use his liberty to terrorise his victims. The Centre had, incidentally, in its review petition, argued that the denial of anticipatory bail was the very ‘backbone’ of the 1989 law.

Noting that there was no requirement to stay its direction for preliminary enquiry, Justice Goel said the registration of an FIR was not necessary to grant compensation to victims under the 1989 Act.

Further, the Bench said, the preliminary enquiry was no bar for the registration of an FIR for other allied offences under the Indian Penal Code.

The Bench agreed to list the case for further hearing after all parties have filed their written submissions and rejoinders in the case.

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