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In a significant judgment, the Supreme Court has introduced safeguards to prevent misuse of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 against officers who deal with the complaints under the Act in their official capacity.
It has held that prior sanction of appointing authority is required for prosecuting officers for acts done by them with respect to SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 in their official capacity. The judgment states,
“…no arrest may be effected, if an accused person is a public servant, without written permission of the appointing authority and if such a person is not a public servant, without written permission of the Senior Superintendent of Police of the District.”
The judgment (Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs. State of Maharashtra) was rendered by a Bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit in an appeal against a judgment of the Bombay High Court. The High Court had refused to quash the prosecution of one Subhash Kashinath Mahajan, who is the Director of Technical Education.
By way of background, certain adverse remarks were recorded against respondent Bhaskar Karbhari Gaikwad by the Principal and Head of the Department of the College of Pharmacy where the respondent was employed. Gaikwad sought sanction for prosecution of the Principal under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and for certain other connected offences.
The matter was dealt with by the appellant, who was then the Director of Technical Education. The appellant declined to sanction the same, whereupon another complaint was filed by the respondent against the appellant under the Act. The quashing of the said complaint was declined by the High Court, leading to appeal in Supreme Court.
When the matter was taken up for hearing on November 20 last year, the Supreme Court, after noting the facts, had framed the following question:
“The question which has arisen in the course of consideration of this matter is whether any unilateral allegation of mala fide can be ground to prosecute officers who dealt with the matter in official capacity and if such allegation is falsely made what is protection available against such abuse.”
The Court then observed that if the allegation is acted upon, the proceedings can result in arrest or prosecution of the person and have serious consequences on his right to liberty even on a false complaint.
It, therefore, proceeded to consider whether,
“there can be procedural safeguards so that provisions of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 are not abused for extraneous considerations?”
The Bench had then appointed Senior Advocate Amarendra Sharan as to assist the court along with advocate Amit Anand Tiwari. It had also heard Additional Solicitor General Maninder Singh.
Quite significantly, the Court also gave a purposive interpretation to Section 18 of the Act, which prevents the grant of anticipatory bail in complaints under the Act.
“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 on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.”
Justifying the reason for the same, the Court held,
“…exclusion of provision for anticipatory bail cannot possibly, by any reasonable interpretation, be treated as applicable when no case is made out or allegations are patently false or motivated. If this interpretation is not taken, it may be difficult for public servants to discharge their bona fide functions and, in given cases, they can be black mailed with the threat of a false case being registered under the Atrocities Act, without any protection of law. This cannot be the scenario in a civilized society.”