The Supreme Court on Friday refused to stay the recent amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill of 2018 had restored the legislative intent of the original Act, which barred anticipatory bail to a person accused of insulting or hurting a Dalit.
The amendments were meant to nullify the effect of a March 20 judgment of the court. The verdict removed the bar on accused persons seeking anticipatory bail. It led to widespread protests and loss of lives.
Admitting the petitions challenging the amendments, a Bench led by Justice A.K. Sikri directed the government to reply to allegations that the amendments were meant to appease the Dalits ahead of the 2019 general election.
The petitions urged the government to quash the amendments, which were introduced and passed in Parliament even as the government’s petition to review the March 20 verdict was pending in the Supreme Court.
The petitions said the March 20 judgement of the apex court was meant to safeguard “innocent people of the country” from arbitrary arrest on the basis of frivolous and motivated complaints under the 1989 Act. The verdict, authored by Justice (now retired) A.K. Goel, was meant to uphold the fundamental right of personal liberty, the petitions said.
One of the petitioners, Prithvi Raj Chauhan, a lawyer, said the amendments were a “major blunder” committed by the government.
“After this unconstitutional amendment, this court is not expected to adopt a passive or negative role and remain bystander or a spectator if violation of rights is observed,” Mr. Chauhan said in his petition.
Justice Sikri, at one point during the hearing, asked why the amendments were introduced without explaining why the Supreme Court judgement was wrong.