SC recalls 2018 verdict’s direction on SC/ST Act

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New Delhi– The Supreme Court on Tuesday criticized the prevailing caste system in the country as it recalled its direction in the verdict passed on March 20, 2018, virtually diluting the provisions of arrest under the SC/ST Act.

A bench of Justices Arun Mishra, M.R. Shah and B.R. Gavai said: “SC/STs have been outcasts for centuries, and untouchability has not vanished yet. They still remain ‘Harijan’.. The creation of a casteless society is the ultimate aim.”

The court also recalled the requirement of a preliminary enquiry before registering an FIR.

“When the offence is registered under the Act, the law should take its course… no additional fetters are called for on arrest whether in case of a public servant or non public servant. Even otherwise, as we have not approved the approval of arrest by appointing authority/SSP, the direction to record reasons and scrutiny by a magistrate consequently stands nullified,” the court ruled.

Citing social discrimination faced by the backward classes, the court pointed that the Constitution’s Article 15 carves out special provisions. “Courts cannot do what could not be done by the legislature,” it said.

Criticizing the system, the court observed that it treated the people from SC/ST category with a rider that a report lodged by them would be registered only after a preliminary investigation by a Deputy Superintendent of Police, whereas under the Criminal Procedure Code, a complaint lodged relating to cognizable offence has to be registered forthwith.

“It would mean a report by an upper caste has to be registered immediately and arrest can be made forthwith, whereas, in case of an offence under the Act, it would be conditioned one. It would be opposed to the protective discrimination meted out to the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as envisaged under the Constitution in Articles 15, 17 and 21 and would tantamount to treating them as unequal,” the court said.

Dealing with the misuse of provisions of SC/ST Act and lodging of false cases, the bench said it is not due to the caste system but due to human failure. “Can you doubt any person on the basis of caste? Even a general category person can file a false FIR?”

The apex court observed under Article 15, the Constitution provides for protection of SC/ST people, but they still face social discrimination. “Therefore, it is against the basic human dignity to treat all of them as a liar or as a crook and look at every complaint by such complainant with a doubt,” it added.

Noting that the backward classes have not been able to achieve equity and civil rights, and despite reservations, the fruits of development have not reached them, it said: “Eyewitnesses do not come up to speak in their favour. They hardly muster the courage to speak against the upper castes and that is why provisions have been made by way of amendments for the protection of witnesses and rehabilitation of victims.”

“All humans are equal including in their failings,” observed the court in its 51-page verdict.

Batting for the special protection for the backward classes, it insisted that they should not be put in a disadvantageous position.

The court also said that if a prima facie case has not been made out attracting the provisions of SC/ST Act, in that case, the bar created under Section 18 on the grant of anticipatory bail is not attracted. “Thus, prima facie it appears that in the case of misuse of provisions, adequate safeguards are provided in the decision mentioned above,” it said.

The Centre filed a review petition against the March 2018 verdict and pressed for restoring the stringent provisions. The March 20, 2018 verdict had led to massive protests across the country. Then, the Parliament had to pass the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018, to counterbalance the judgment. (IANS)


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