What happened in Supreme Court?
On March 20, the Supreme Court observed that the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 is being used to “blackmail” innocent citizens and handed down guidelines to protect both public servants and private employees.
The court directed that public servants can only be arrested with the written permission of their appointing authority. In the case of private employees, the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it.
“Innocent citizens are termed accused, which is not intended by the legislature. The legislature never intended to use the Atrocities Act as an instrument to blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance,” the Supreme Court said.
“The Act cannot be converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by any unscrupulous person or by the police for extraneous reasons against other citizens. Any harassment of an innocent citizen, irrespective of caste or religion, is against the guarantee of the Constitution. This court must enforce such a guarantee. Law should not result in caste hatred,” the Supreme Court held.
The apex court also determined that a preliminary inquiry should be conducted before the FIR is registered to check whether the case falls within the parameters of the Atrocities Act and if it is frivolous or motivated.
How was it received?
On March 21, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government was yet to examine the Supreme Court judgment. The Congress said that there was a need to review the judgment as it promoted a “sense of insecurity” among the Dalit community.
A group of BJP MPs, belonging to these communities, met Mr. Prasad and urged that the government file a review petition. The National Coalition for Strengthening of SC / ST (PoA) Act urged the Union government to take swift measures to overturn this “dilution of the Act.”
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi president Thol. Thirumavalavan said that the government must also consider going for an appeal to a larger Bench of the Supreme Court.
Lok Janshakti Party’s parliamentary party head Chirag Paswan said the ruling took away the strongest instrument Dalits had. “We will be filing a review petition on our own. And we demand that the government too does that. The ruling makes the law completely ineffective and toothless.”
What did the government do?
The Centre on Monday moved the Supreme Court seeking review of its recent judgement by which safeguards were put on the provisions for immediate arrest under the SC/ST Act.
The government, in its review petition, told the Supreme Court that its March 20 verdict will violate Article 21 of the Constitution for the SC/ST communities and sought restoration of the provisions the Act.
Why is there a bandh?
A nationwide bandh has been called by Dalit outfits to protest the Supreme Court’s judgment. There has been sporadic bursts of violence in some states after the bandh began.
Dalit organisations, including the Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, and some political parties fear the dilution of the provisions might lead to increase in violence against Dalits.