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The Central Government’s move to reverse the controversial judgment which had diluted the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (‘SC/ST Act’), 1989 with the intent of introducing safeguards against false arrests has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Last March, a Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit had ruled that prior sanction is necessary before making arrests for offences under the SC/ST Act. This direction was made with the intent to prevent the misuse of the SC/ST Act, given the serious penal consequences which otherwise follow for the accused person.
The ruling provoked widespread criticism across the country. Moreover, the Central Government wasted no time in filing a review petition against the judgment, contending that the Bench had failed to appreciate facts and settled principles of law.
While this review petition is pending, the Central Government passed an amendment earlier this month, effectively undoing the effect of the controversial judgement. By this amendment, a new provision, Section 18A was inserted into the SC/ST Act, which essentially reinstated the law as it stood prior to the Supreme Court’s March ruling.
Therefore, as the law stands, no prior sanction is required before proceeding against those accused of an offence under the SC/ST Act. Further, such accused persons are also excluded from availing anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC).
Party-in-person, Advocate Sandeep Lamba has now filed a writ petition challenging this amendment, citing various grounds.
Echoing concerns raised by the Supreme Court earlier regarding the potential misuse of the SC/ST Act, Lamba has submitted that,
“… [under the reinstated SC/ST law] those who are so inclined could accuse anyone of certain crimes and be able to extract ransom, as a condition of withdrawing the accusation…
The anti-atrocities law, which protects Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes from casteist slurs and discrimination, has become an instrument to ‘blackmail’ innocent citizens and public servants.”
He goes on to contend that there has been an increase in such blackmail-oriented complaints in the recent decades,
“The past three decades have seen complainants – who belong to the marginalized sections of society – use the Schedules Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 to exact ‘vengeance’ and satisfy vested interests.
The Atrocities Act is also prone to misuse on account of monetary incentive being available merely for lodging a case under Rule 12 (4) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995…”
Inter alia, the exclusion of anticipatory bail relief for those accused on the SC/ST Act has also been particularly challenged as violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
While contesting its constitutionality, Lamba has also argued that the amendment was only brought in by the government to appease critics and reap electoral gains. As noted in his affidavit,
“…the Parliament placed this constitutional amendment in the atrocity act with a sole intention to appease a particular section of society before elections.“
In light of these contentions, Lamba has prayed that the Court declare the recent SC/ST Amendment Act as unconstitutional for violating Articles 14, 19 and 21.
Read the Petition:
Read the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018: