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Tuesday 21 January 2020

Will Supreme Court turn SC/ST Act stringent again?

On 30 January, the Supreme Court court had refused to stay amendments to the SC/ST Act that restored the no anticipatory bail provision

New Delhi: The Supreme Court is scheduled Friday to pronounce verdict on the Centre’s plea seeking review of its 20 March 2018 judgement which had virtually diluted provisions of arrest under the SC/ST Act. A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra will pronounce the verdict. The Supreme Court had on 1 May reserved the judgement on the Centre’s review plea while observing that laws in the country should be caste neutral and uniform. The Centre contended that the whole March 2018 verdict was “problematic” and it should be reviewed by the court.

The verdict had led to massive outcry and violent protests by different SC/ST organisations across the country in which several people had died and many injured. Some of the parties supporting the last year verdict had said that the Centre’s review has become infructuous as Parliament has already passed the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 to neutralize the effects of the judgment. They sought a stay of the Amendment Act till the apex court gives the verdict on the review plea of Centre.

The Supreme Court had said that if any wrong has been done in the judgement, then it can always be corrected in the review petition. On 30 January, the apex court had refused to stay amendments to the SC/ST Act that restored the no anticipatory bail provision.

Parliament on 9 August last year had passed a bill to overturn the apex court order relating to certain safeguards against arrest under the SC and ST law. On 20 March 2018, the apex court had taken note of the rampant misuse of the stringent SC/ST Act against government servants and private individuals and said there would be no immediate arrest on any complaint filed under the law.

The Supreme Court had said that on “several occasions”, innocent citizens were being termed as accused and public servants deterred from performing their duties, which was never the intention of the legislature while enacting the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

The apex court had said that there is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act, if no prima facie case is made out or where the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide. It had said that in view of the acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Atrocities Act, the arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP).

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