New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to keep in abeyance its earlier order preventing automatic arrests on complaints filed under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
The court, showing no inclination to stay its earlier order on the SC/ST Act, asked the parties to file written submissions within two days. The matter will be taken up after 10 days.
On 20 March, a bench comprising justices U.U. Lalit and A.K. Goel held a public servant could be arrested only after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the senior superintendent of police, if considered necessary, for reasons recorded.
To avoid false implication, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the deputy superintendent of police to verify if the allegations make out a case under the SC/ST Act.
The ruling triggered protests by Dalit groups across the country, with sporadic violence at a Bharat Bandh on 2 April.
The Centre’s review petition was heard by the same bench of justices Goel and Lalit.
Regarding the large number of people who took to the streets in protest, Goel said, “Sometimes, people agitated may not have read the order properly. There may also be some kind of vested interests involved."
Clarifying the main objective behind the order, Justice A.K. Goel said, “We are concerned about innocent people being put behind bars. Can the liberty of a person be taken away without due procedure? There has to be some form of verification."
He added that the court was not trying to stand in the way of the rights of members of the scheduled caste/tribes and was concentrating on protecting false implication of an innocent person.
“What happens when there is an allegation against a public servant? What if it’s against the attorney general? Should he be immediately discharged of his duties?" Goel asked.
It was also highlighted that under the SC/ST Act, there was no provision for anticipatory bail due to which once a complaint was filed, it could lead to an immediate arrest.
Attorney General K.K. Venugopal urged the court to stay or clarify its ruling and claimed that it led to the dilution of the law meant to protect the marginalized.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh denied there was any dilution of the law.
“Through the House, I want to assure the people that there has been no dilution in whatsoever by my Government; rather, after coming to power and examining the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, we have taken a decision to strengthen it," Singh said in Lok Sabha on the violence during Bharat Bandh.
The centre, in its petition said the order “adversely affects a substantial portion of the population of India being SC/ST members". It was also “contrary to the legislative policy of the Parliament" as reflected in the SC/ST Act, it said.
It was also the centre’s stand that any dilution of the provisions of the amended SC/ST Act would result in depriving the community of their constitutional rights, it said.
“Any dilution of section 18 of the 1989 Act would shake the very objective of the mechanism to prevent offences of atrocities. The pain and injury caused due to commission of an offence against them is the worst form of violation of Article 21 (right to life) of the Constitution and requires strict implementation of the law", the petition stated.
It added that introducing additional procedural requirements under the order would result in “impeding strict enforcement/implementation of the provisions of the 1989 Act" on account of “impermissible delay in registration of cases" relating to violations caused against the SC/ST community, thereby diluting the efficacy of the enactment.
Shaswati Das contributed to the story.