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This article has been written by Nikunj Arora of Amity Law School, Noida. This article provides a detailed analysis of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (as amended), along with the Act’s objectives, purpose, and salient features. This article also throws light on the provisions for special courts, anticipatory bail, and rehabilitation under the Act.

This article has been published by Oishika Banerji.

Introduction

As India undergoes a rapid growth and prosperity phase, it is allowing all sections of society the chance to envision, create, and increase the standard of living of their communities. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes have emerged as one of the most progressive communities of Indian society due to their educational, economic, and social empowerment. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Act) has prevented a wide range of offences against the Scheduled Castes and Tribes. These special courts (established under the Act) work to protect the rights and privileges of the victims and assist them in receiving relief. 

There are two marginalized groups in Indian society: the Dalits, which are legally classified as a Scheduled Caste, and the Tribals, which are legally classified as a Scheduled Tribe. They have been the victims of many atrocities since the beginning of time. Hence, this segment of the population is protected from discrimination and atrocities by the Act. Despite this, the impact of enacting this law and its purpose remains in doubt because there are widespread concerns regarding the potential misuse of the provisions of this legislation.

According to Article 17 of the Indian Constitution, untouchability and all similar practices are forbidden. The Untouchability (Offences) Act was passed in 1955. However, the government was forced to make changes to the 1955 Act and passed the Civil Rights Act, 1955 (amended in 1976), due to the shortcomings and loopholes in the 1955 Act. Due to the continuing grievances and injustice against Scheduled Castes and Tribes, Parliament passed the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Act (1989) and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules (1995) in order to combat the inhuman treatment they suffer.

Now, the 1989 Act aims at delivering justice to these communities through proactive efforts to enable their participation in a democratic society and to ensure that they feel valued members of a society, free from discrimination, violence, and oppression by dominant castes. Additionally, it aims to ensure their integration into Indian social life. In both its open and concealed forms, untouchability is now a cognizable offence, and strict punishments are imposed for any such offence. 

An overview of the SC and ST Act, 1989

Origin

Classifications of mankind have existed since the Vedas. Varna is an ancient division of society derived from the Rigveda that was based on profession (Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras). Manusmriti (the book of law) was the primary source of evidence for this claim. It has been shown that the first three groups have parallels with Indo-European societies, and the Shudras are thought to have originated with the Brahmins. The concept of untouchability did not exist in Vedic times. Apparently, this concept appeared in post-Vedic literature, specifically in the Manusmriti, which mentioned the term outcast, as well as the idea that they should be excluded.

From the point of view of a rigid, class-based society, the British, who came from a rigid caste-based society as well, attempted to equate themselves with the Indian caste system. They divided and ruled the country by means of religion, caste, etc. The British acted in a vengeful manner by introducing a separate electorate. It is widely believed that Gandhi-Ambedkar’s Poona Pact (1932) was instrumental in the development of divide and rule in this country, resulting in the deterioration of Dalit conditions. In 1793, Lord Cornwallis introduced the Zamindari System, which was responsible for significant socioeconomic disparities in the society, affecting mostly the lower castes of society.

Due to the failure of the Constitution to create equality for all in Indian society and also to eliminate the practice of untouchability, a new law was needed, and thus, the Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955 was passed, but its shortcomings and loopholes necessitated a complete overhaul of this Act. Upon its revamp in 1976, the Act became the Protection of Civil Rights Act. In spite of the various measures taken by the government to close this gap between lower and upper castes and to protect the Dalits from discrimination, harassment, and offences, they remained a vulnerable category. Even if they had been informed of their rights, they would be intimidated and cowered down by vested interests when they attempt to assert these rights or rebel against the practice of untouchability against them. The then-existing laws, such as the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and the Indian Penal Code, are not sufficient to check the atrocities perpetrated against the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes. Therefore, the Parliament, in recognition of the existing problems, passed the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 and its Rules in 1995. 

Objectives and purpose of the SC and ST Act, 1989

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state and union territories are defined in Article 342(1) and Article 366(25) of the Indian Constitution as a special category of tribe or community as and whenever declared by the President. The following are the objectives and the purpose of the Act:

  • The Act is the primary legislation aimed at preventing the occurrence of crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. ​
  • According to the Act, Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts shall be established for the purpose of trying individuals charged with such atrocities.
  • As per the Act, funds are provided for their free rehabilitation,  travel expenses, and maintenance expenses, with officers empowered to ensure that the act is appropriately implemented.
  • Additionally, the Act sets out to make the Dalits an integral part of society and to protect their rights when crimes threaten to violate their social, economic, democratic, and political rights.
  • The Act works to prevent deprivation and assists marginalized communities in avoiding it.

Salient features and rules of the SC and ST Act, 1989

The Rationalities of the Act and the associated Rules cover a number of issues or problems pertaining to atrocities against SC/ST people and their status within society. The following are the three different categories under the Act:

  • Provisions relating to criminal law make up the first category. A number of crimes are defined in this category, and it also extends the scope of several categories of penalties described in the Indian Penal Code. 
  • In the second category, victims of atrocities are entitled to relief and compensation.
  • Thirdly, the Act establishes special authorities for its implementation and enforcement.

The following are the salient features of the Act:

  • The Act tries to add new types of offences that are neither mentioned in the Indian Penal Code, 1860 nor in the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955.
  • Offences can only be committed by certain individuals, e.g. barbarity against SCs or STs can be committed only by non-SCs. This Act does not apply to crimes committed between SCs and STs or between STs and SCs.  In Kanubhai M. Parmar v. State of Gujarat (2000), the Court ruled that persons belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe who commit a crime against another Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe cannot be prosecuted or punished as per the Act. 
  • There are 37 offences [offences mentioned in sub-section (1) and (2) of Section 3] included in the Act that involve patterns of behaviour inflicting criminal offences and breaking the self-respect and esteem of the scheduled castes and tribes community. Among these are the denial of economic, democratic, and social rights, as well as exploitation and abuse of the legal system.
  • Different types of atrocities committed against SCs/STs are defined under the Act and strict penalties are prescribed for such atrocities [Section 3(1) (i) to (xv) and 3(2) (i) to (vii) of the Act]. The Penalties for public servants are enhanced in some cases.
  • Punishment for public officials who are delinquent in performing their duties. [Section 3(2) (vii) of the Act].
  • Attachment and forfeiture of property. [Section 7 of the Act].
  • Externment of potential offenders. [Section 10(1) and (3) of the Act].
  • Creation of Special Courts [Section 14 of the Act]. In Mangal Prasad v. Additional Session Judge (1992) the Court held that the special court has been appointed as a special Judge within the meaning of Section 2(d) of the Act. The Magistrate cannot take cognizance of the offence unless the accused is referred to the special court by the Magistrate. The special court cannot also act as a Magistrate in the exercise of his powers or in taking cognizance of the Act, or in making a complaint to the police station in accordance with Section 156 (3) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
  • In addition to providing tribals with protection against atrocities, the legislation also provides a regime for monitoring the state’s retaliation against atrocities committed against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Accordant to the Act and Rules, the District Magistrates will submit monthly reports, a 25-member State Monitoring and Vigilance Committee (SVMC) will meet weekly, and a monthly report will be submitted by the District Monitoring and Vigilance Committee (DVMC). Additionally, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will be required to review every Special Public Prosecutor’s (SPP’s) progress every quarter. It is mandatory to submit annual reports by 31 March every year to the central government.
  • A new definition of atrocity was established by the Parliament in 1989 when this Act was passed. In India, the term “atrocity” is often used to describe crimes committed against SCs and STs. This refers to any crime committed against SCs and STs by persons who are not SCs or STs under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. It is not necessary to have a motive for racial discrimination in order to commit such an offence. 

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 were notified in 1995. These Rules provide for relief and rehabilitation norms for the affected communities. The following are some of the major provisions of the said Rules:

  • According to Rule 3, the State Governments must take preventive and precautionary measures regarding atrocity crimes.
  • According to Rule 7(1), an officer at the DSP level is responsible for investigating offences under the Act.
  • Rule 7(2) provides that the investigation should be completed within 30 days and the report should be sent directly to the director of the state police.
  • Rule 8 states that there shall be the establishment of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Protection Cell as part of the police headquarters under the supervision of the Director-General of Police/IG Police.
  • Rules 9 and 10 prescribe the appointment of a Nodal Officer at the State level, not lower than the position of Secretary of the State Government, and a Special Officer at the district level, not lower than the position of Additional District Magistrate. These nominations shall be for districts in which atrocity-prone areas have been identified, and such nomination shall coordinate the functioning of District Managers, Special Deputy Commissioners, and other relevant officers, at the State and District levels.
  • According to Rule 12(4), the victims of atrocities shall be offered immediate cash or in-kind relief according to the prescribed norms. 
  • The State Vigilance and Monitoring Committee shall meet twice a year, as per Rule 16 under the leadership of the Chief Minister.
  • As per Rule 17, the Vigilance and Monitoring Committees at the district level are mandated to meet at least quarterly.  

Implementation of the SC and ST Act, 1989

Section 21 of the said Act states that the government is responsible for ensuring the effectiveness of the Act. For effective implementation, the state government shall take measures in accordance with the Rules. Some of these measures/provisions include:

  • Provisions were people subject to atrocities must have access to adequate facilities, including legal aid so that they can seek justice.
  • In case of an investigation or trial involving an offence under this Act, provisions shall be made for the payment of travelling and maintenance expenses to witnesses, including victims of atrocities.
  • Rehabilitation measures for the victims of atrocities, including economic and social assistance.
  • An officer is appointed to initiate prosecutions for violating the provisions of the Act or exercise supervision over those prosecutions.
  • The setting up of committees at appropriate levels to assist the state government in formulating or implementing such measures, as deemed appropriate by that government.
  • To survey the working of the provisions of this Act periodically so that measures can be suggested for improving their implementation.
  • Adoption of measures to ensure the safety of those from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who are likely to be subjected to atrocities in specific areas.
  • Furthermore, the Central Government shall prepare every year a report pertaining to the measures taken by itself as well as by the state governments in accordance with Section 21 that shall be placed before the lower and upper houses of Parliament. 

Process for seeking remedy under the SC and ST Act, 1989

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 prescribes the following procedure for seeking remedy under the Act:

  • An offence can be reported orally or in writing by the victim to the nearest police station. This complaint can also be sent to the relevant police station. via registered mail (Rule 5)
  • Anyone below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police should be authorized to conduct the spot investigation. Next, the names of the victims are established, as is the extent of the property damage and personal injury. [Rule 6 and Rule 7(1)]
  • A report prepared by the investigating officer is sent to the Superintendent of Police, who then forwards it to the Director-General or the Commissioner of Police. Within the next 60 days, the Inspector in Charge of the Police Station responsible for the jurisdiction is instructed to file the charge sheet with the Special Court. [Rule 7(2)]
  • In the event that the charge sheet is not filed within 60 days of being formally summoned before the special court, then a reason as to why it has been put off should also be listed as an accompanying statement. [Rule 7(2A)]

Special Courts under the SC and ST Act, 1989

Chapter 4 of the Act contains provisions concerning the constitution of a special court to hear complaints regarding atrocities committed against scheduled castes and tribes. To ensure speedy trials, the State Government must establish in each district a Special Court that will exclusively try the offences under this Act with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of the High Court. Accordingly, in the case of districts that have not had any atrocities against Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes at all, the government shall have the power, with the consent of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, either to exempt such district or districts from the provisions of this act or to combine these districts with any neighbouring districts to establish the exclusive special courts.

In conformance with this provision, special courts shall be created that is distinct from existing session courts. These Courts are the only ones authorized to try offences arising under this Act. In addition to that, the act requires the State Government to appoint a Special Public Prosecutor for each Special Court or designate an advocate who has been practising law for at least seven years as a Special Public Prosecutor for the Court that has received the case.

Without the consent of a magistrate Court, the Special Court cannot entertain a complaint. The Court in Raj Mal v. Ratan Singh (1988) held that, under Section 14 of the Act, a special court had the power to accept cognizance and it was not necessary for the case to be committed to a magistrate for consideration. Furthermore, the Court noted that the respondent accused has contended that the Special Judge does not have jurisdiction to take cognizance directly of the complaint. According to the advocate of the respondent, the Special Judge was only empowered to punish offences punishable under the Act when they were committed by a Magistrate based on the Code of Criminal Procedure.

In support of this statement, the learned counsel cited a Supreme Court decision in Mangli Prasad v. Additional Sessions Judge (2010) of the Allahabad High Court. However, in Davinder Singh Sarpanch v. State of Punjab (2016), the single Bench concluded that the Judicial Magistrate does not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint under this legislation and that the Special Court constituted under Section 14 of the Act can hear the complaint and take cognizance. It is not required that the case be referred to the Special Court by the Magistrate, as is the case in most Sessions cases.

With regard to the above case of the Allahabad High Court, the Court in the present case disagreed with the view taken by the learned single Judge and held that while a Magistrate can assign a case to the Special Court, it is not necessary to do so in order to enable the Special Court to take cognizance of the offences under the Act. Similarly, in Ammula Raji Reddy v. State of A.P. (2004), the Andhra Pradesh High Court held that the Special Judge of the Court could not take cognizance of the offence by taking a charge sheet without a commitment from the Magistrate.

The Court in the present case further observed that in Moly v. State of Kerala (2004), the Supreme Court followed the case of Vidydharan and Gangula Ashok v. State of A.P. (2000) and considered the scope of Section 14 and accordingly held that the Act contemplates only the trial to be conducted by the Special Court. As an added benefit, such trials will be carried out promptly by a Court of Session designated as a Special Court.  

Appointment of Public Prosecutor for Special Court

According to Section 15 of the Act, every State Government shall designate or appoint a Special Public Prosecutor for every Special Court for the purpose of conducting cases within the Court. Rules 4(5) of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules 1995, provide that the District Magistrate may appoint the advocate of choice of the victim of atrocity who is also, in the opinion of the District Magistrate, an eminent senior advocate.

It is evident that Rule 4(5) of the said rules and Section 15 of the Act are not in conflict with each other. In Satki Devi V. Tikam Singh (2006) the Court held that although the State is the prosecutor in case of any crimes or criminal proceedings a Special Public Prosecutor or a Public Prosecutor will be appointed by the government, and the Act shall always be a special statute overriding any other law at that time. In the present case, there was a claim that although the District Magistrate had powers to appoint advocates to plead the case of complainants, he had no power to appoint Special Public Prosecutors and that under Section 15 of the Act, the power to appoint Special Public Prosecutors is vested in the State Government and the same could not be delegated. 

A Special Public Prosecutor appointed under Section 15 of the Act is the only person authorized to prosecute the case. Unlike Section 15 or Rule 4(1), Rule 4(5) does not specify a minimum length of practice for the advocate. The reason could be that the legislators of the rule did not seem to want to restrict the choice of victims of atrocity with the caveat that the person must be only an ‘eminent’ senior advocate. Hence, the advocate should be of the choice of the victim of atrocity as well as an eminent senior advocate in the opinion of the District Magistrate.

Provision for investigation and rehabilitation under the SC and ST Act, 1989

The Act provides for the social and economic rehabilitation of victims of atrocities under Section 21(2)(iii). It outlines provisions for providing legal aid to victims and travel and maintenance benefits to victims and witnesses during investigation and trial. According to Rule 11, every atrocity victim or any of his/her dependents or witnesses shall be compensated for the cost of an express/mail passenger train or actual bus or train fare between his/her residence and the place of investigation. In the case of minors, women, old, and disabled victims/witnesses, an accompanying individual shall be provided at his/her request.

A daily allowance equal to the minimum wage for maintenance and diet expenses is provided. This allowance will be paid within three days after receipt. As a result of offences under Section 3, the victim is entitled to medical reimbursement, including blood transfusions, meals, etc. As per Rule 12, a district magistrate should take steps to provide immediate relief to victims of atrocities, their family members, and dependents, including food, water, clothing, shelter, medical and transportation facilities as well as other essential items that are vital for human survival. Norms and scales of compensation are outlined in the schedule of the Rules.

In addition to any other rights to claim compensation under any other law, death, injury to, or damage to property shall constitute a cause of action for relief. According to Rule 13, it is necessary for the state government to take care in appointing people with an appropriate inclination and knowledge of the issues of SCs and STs, as well as making sure that the SCs and STs are adequately represented in the police and administration. Rule 14 stipulates that the state is strictly obliged to provide relief and rehabilitation facilities to the victims of atrocities as part of its annual budget.

The Central Government is authorized to frame rules for carrying out the purpose of the Act under Section 23 of the Act. Rule 7(1) of the said rules states that only officers who are not lower than the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police can investigate an offence committed under the Act. In light of this rule, various High Courts have invalidated the trial and, as a result, throwing out the conviction. It has been held by the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in D. Ramlinga Reddy v. State of AP (1996) that Rule 7 is mandatory and an investigation under the said rule must only be conducted by a DSP and not by an officer below the rank of the DSP. The Court stated that a charge sheet and investigation conducted by an incompetent officer may be quashed.

The Madras High Court ruled in M. Kathiresam v. State of Tamil Nadu (1999) that investigations conducted by officers other than a DSP are improper and unconstitutional. Accordingly, any subsequent prosecution should be quashed. As per the preamble of the Act, the purpose of the Act is to prevent the commission of crimes against the SC/STs, provide for the trial of such crimes by Special Courts, and the relief and rehabilitation of victims of such crimes.

In its judgement in Dr. Ram Krishna Balothia v. Union of India (1994), the Madhya Pradesh High Court also expressed the same view and observed that the Act is intended to provide protection and speedy trials to members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. There are affirmative measures in the Act that strive to eliminate the root cause that led to atrocities against SC/STs. While the Act managed to address the issue of justice dispensation, it did not address the issue of rehabilitation, according to the Court.

Anticipatory bail provisions under the SC and ST Act, 1989

Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides for the provisions of anticipatory bail. Under this Act, Section 18 states the following:

“Section 438 of the Code not to apply to persons committing an offence under the Act.—Nothing in section 438 of the Code shall apply in relation to any case involving the arrest of any person on an accusation of having committed an offence under this Act.”

Since the enactment of the Act, there has been a dispute regarding the order of bail by the court before arrest. This dispute is particularly evident in Section 18. A judgment by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in March 2018 clarified the interpretation of the said section. The Supreme Court has held in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra and Others (2018). that, in cases where it appears to the court that atrocities or violations of the Act are untrue, the exclusion of anticipatory bail provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (by Section 18 of the Act) does not constitute an absolute bar to the grant of bail.

Furthermore, it was held that it was not permissible to arrest public servants without the approval of their appointing authority, of such public servants, in other cases, without the permission of the senior superintendent of police. Additionally, it was directed that cases under the Act may only be registered following an investigation of the complaint. It was recognized that these directions contravened the spirit of the Act and received considerable public comment. The Union of India also moved this court to review these directions. The case of Union of India v. State of Maharashtra (2019) was reviewed by a three-judge bench of this court, which reversed and overruled these directions.    

In a recent case of Pavas Sharma v. State of Chhattisgarh (2021), the Court set aside the rejection order and granted anticipatory bail on the grounds of patent infringement. A criminal complaint against the applicant was registered at Police Station Gole Bazar, Raipur, District Raipur under Section 495 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Section 3(2)(v) of this Act. The applicant had requested anticipatory bail before the Court below; however, the application was denied due to the bar created under Section 18 of the Act of 1989 and due to the allegations being both under the IPC and Section 3(2)(v)(a) of the Act of 1989. Therefore, the application was not maintainable. In response to this decision, the applicant filed the present appeal.

In the opinion of counsel for the appellants, anticipatory bail was not generally available where an accused was alleged to have committed an offence pursuant to the Act of 1989. However, when no prima facie case was established in exceptional circumstances, the benefit of anticipatory bail may be extended. Consequently, the Court stated that the offence under Section 3(2)(v)(a) of the Act of 1989 would be prima facie proven only when the allegation from the victim was that the victim was assaulted because the victim belonged to a reserved category of people or the evidence collected during the investigation shows that the victim was assaulted because he or she belonged to such a category.

Amendments to the SC and ST Act, 1989

Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 seeks to implement more stringent provisions to prevent atrocities against these communities. With effect from January 26, 2016, the Act amends the principal Act. The Amendment Act, of 2015 offered the following key features:

Actions to be treated as offences

Acts committed against SCs or STs by non-SCs or STs are defined as offences under the Act. Under the Amendment Act, certain existing categories of actions are amended and new categories are added. Under the Act, new offences have been added, such as:

  • garlanding with footwear,
  • forcing others to dispose of or carry dead human or animal bodies, or to do manual scavenging,
  • abusing SCs or STs by caste name publicly,
  • disrespecting any deceased individual held in high esteem, and
  • imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott.

Assaulting or sexually exploiting an SC or ST woman is an offence under the SC and ST Act, 1989

It is stipulated that intentionally touching SC or ST women in a sexual manner without their consent shall also be considered an offence, as will using sexual words, acts, or gestures, or dedicating an SC or ST woman as a devadasi to a temple, or any similar practice. By definition, consent is a voluntary agreement expressed either verbally or non-verbally.

Considering SC/ST as offenders in certain cases:

SCs or STs will be considered offenders if they are prevented from engaging in the following activities:

  • using common property resources,
  • entering any place of worship that is open to the public, and
  • entering an education or health institution.

Presumption as to the offences

If the accused had personal knowledge of the victim or his family, the court shall presume that the accused was aware of the victim’s caste or tribal identity, unless the defendant proves otherwise.

Role of public servants

A non-SC or ST public servant who neglects to perform his or her duties related to SCs or STs will be liable to imprisonment for a period of six months to one year. There are several duties that the Amendment Act specifies, including:

  • registering a complaint or FIR,
  • reading the information given orally to the informant before taking their signature and giving them a copy of the information.

Offences punishable under the SC and ST Act, 1989

It will also make certain IPC offences punishable under the Prevention of Atrocities Act, such as hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping, etc., committed against Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe members. Only those offences listed in the IPC as attracting punishment of 10 years or more and committed on members of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe are accepted as offences falling under the principal act.

Appointment of SPP

Appointing Special Public Prosecutors and Exclusive Special Special Courts to try crimes under the Act so they can be handled more quickly and efficiently.

Witness and victim rights

A Chapter on the rights of victims and witnesses was added to the Amendment Act. Arrangements must be made by the state to protect victims, their heirs, and witnesses. A state government scheme is required to ensure the protection of victims and witnesses.

Measures by the Courts

It is possible for the courts established under the Act to take such measures as:

  • concealing witness names, and
  • taking immediate action when complaints are made that a victim, an informant, or a witness is being harassed. Such complaints should be handled separately from the main case within two months.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018

In 2018, the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, Mr. Thaawarchand Gehlot, brought the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018 forward to the Lok Sabha. The bill was passed in the Rajya Sabha on August 09, 2018. The bill was intended to amend the principal act. The following were the features of the bill:

  • A Supreme Court ruling in 2018 (Prithvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India) stated that before an arrest can be made for those accused of violating the Act, the Senior Superintendent of Police must give their approval. Furthermore, a Deputy Superintendent of Police may conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if a prima facie case exists.
  • It was specified in the Bill that the arrest of an accused would not require the approval of any authority. In addition, it stipulates that a preliminary investigation is not required before registering a First Information Report against a person alleged under the Act.
  • It was stipulated in the Act that persons accused of committing an offence under this Act are not eligible to apply for anticipatory bail. According to the Bill, regardless of any judgements or orders of a court that provide otherwise, this provision will apply.

With regards to the above 2018 judgement, there was strong opposition in the country to this Supreme Court’s decision. Various organizations across the nation called for a “bandh” on April 01, 2018. In this protest there were many casualties, many people died as a result of the fire as the public properties were set ablaze. These organisations demanded that the Amendment to the SC/ST Act 1989 be withdrawn and that the Act 1989 should be implemented as it had been in the past.

There was a great deal of pressure on the Central Government after protests broke out across the country. There was an appeal by the government against this ruling in the Supreme Court. A number of ministers and coalition members also opposed the decision of the Supreme Court. However, the government moved forward with the first ordinance under pressure, and as part of the monsoon session, the government introduced the SC/ST amendment bill (discussed above). This Bill had support from most opposition parties, including Congress. According to the government, an investigation was not required before registering a case, and authorities did not need permission before arresting someone. Additionally, the anticipatory bail system had also been abolished.

Drawbacks of the SC and ST Act, 1989

When studying this Act, one of the things that is striking about it is the amount of detail that was put into its drafting. By including the specific offences (under Section 3 of the Act) and bringing them under the purview of this Act, it only indicates that these offences have been perpetrated frequently and that it was anticipated that they may continue to be committed against the individual concerned. Furthermore, it is essential to provide a very precise description of the offences that are listed under this Act, so that there will be no room for misunderstandings, misinterpretations, or misrepresentations of a particular atrocity.

The following are the major drawbacks of the Act:

The legal system

The Special Courts are not adequately resourced. There are many special courts that are actually courts and are only designated as special courts for the purpose of this Act. As a result, this allows them to deal with cases other than those governed by this Act. Consequently, there has been a huge backlog of cases pertaining to atrocity crimes and a slow process of resolving them.

Provisions regarding rehabilitation

The Act provides only one line regarding rehabilitation under Section 21(2)(iii). It provides for the social and economic rehabilitation of victims of atrocities under the said section.

Thus, there are no specific provisions in relation to rehabilitation, which means that it was not dealt with. Among the problems that atrocity victims face are not only the physical pain and psychological pain, but also the feelings of insecurity and social avoidance, in comparison with victims of other crimes. Therefore, there should be special arrangements for their rehabilitation. In the face of atrocities, victims and their families deserve to receive full financial support as well as any other assistance so that they may become economically self-sufficient without being forced to seek wage employment from the very people or groups that brutalized them and made them suffer so.

Lack of awareness

There are ample numbers of beneficiaries of this Act who are not aware of their right to lead a dignified life as a result of this Act. In some cases, even policemen, prosecutors, and judicial officers are not always aware of this Act or apply it incorrectly, thus aggravating the situation even more.

Few crimes not covered

There are times when the crimes are designed in such a way that they are not classified as atrocities under the Act. Blackmailing, for instance, compels some SC/STs to commit crimes against other SC/STs. It is, therefore, necessary to amend the Act in a manner that will include such crimes and atrocities as ‘atrocities’ under its definition.

In Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. the State of Maharashtra (2018) (discussed above), a two-judge panel issued a highly criticized landmark decision in this case wherein this Court declared that it was important to check for blackmail because it was observed that vested interests and questionable motives were being used to subvert public servants under the Act by unjustly abusing its provisions. Thus, in developing its provisions, the Court stipulated that anticipatory bail could be granted and that a preliminary inquiry must be conducted before a case is formally registered. The Court reasoned that an FIR need not be registered immediately but should be registered as soon as the information is credible and that the public servants could not be arrested without the written permission of the appointing authority.

In contrast, a three-judge bench in Union of India v. State of Maharashtra (2019) overruled this judgment to enforce the strict provisions set forth under the Act. It was acknowledged by this bench that SC and STs were still struggling for equality and civil rights. As a result of this dilution, the very objective of the Act would have been frustrated.

Positive aspects of the SC and ST Act, 1989

  • Under Section 18A of the amended 2018 Act, it is illegal if a preliminary enquiry is to be conducted before filing an FIR or to seek the approval of any authority before arresting someone for the offence committed under the Act. Earlier, this provision was not mentioned in the principal act. Before the 2018 Act, it was necessary to get the approval of the authorities before making an arrest. 
  • An individual who has been accused of atrocities against the SC/ST will not be provided with anticipatory bail under the Act. 
  • As a result of the Act, an Investigation Officer (IO) is empowered to arrest the accused person or persons without the approval of any authority.
  • With the enactment of this Act, the SC/ST community has become more aware of different types of atrocities against them.
  • There is no doubt that the act has helped in protecting the unique identity of these communities and the traditional practices that they use.
  • Due to the enactment of the Act, the discrimination against SCs and STs has been reduced. Thus, as a result, more opportunities are available these days to the SCs and STs in the form of education and health.

Conclusion

India’s constitution mentions equality, but because of the traditional caste system, many people treat lower caste people unfairly. As a matter of fact, the Indian constitution grants various fundamental rights to the lower castes in order to abolish this form of discrimination based on caste, but the reality is that even the constitution of India falls short of guaranteeing them equality. The SCs and STs have been subjected to various forms of disparagement despite many measures having been adopted to improve their socio-economic conditions.

The 1989 Act requires a review of its implementation as well as an amendment to some provisions that are favorable to current social conditions and address the atrocities committed against the weaker sections. In terms of diversified Indian culture and the nation as a whole, the practical implementation of this Act is of vital importance. There is also a suggestion that serious offences such as rape and murder of the weaker sections should be handled by the national SC and ST awareness programmes that aid in educating them about their benefits under the Prevention of Atrocitie Act.

FAQs

  1. What should be done in the event that atrocities are committed against any person who belongs to the Scheduled Caste and/or the Scheduled Tribe by anyone else?

In this case, it is imperative to file a First Information Report (FIR) since the process of justice begins with the registration of an offence.  Section 154 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (1973) explains how to file a First Information Report. According to the 1989 Act, the offences mentioned under the Act are cognizable. Thus, the affected person must file a First Information Report (FIR) in the Police Station of the area as per relevant provisions under Chapter II of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (as amended).

  1. How do the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 work?

It is an Act that prevents atrocities committed against persons who belong to the SC and ST. According to the Act, there is no provision for anticipatory bail for the accused. Additionally, it gives the investigating officer the right to arrest the accused without getting prior approval from senior police officials.

  1. What are the latest updates to the 1989 Act?

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 was upheld in February 2020 by the Supreme Court after a petition to strike it down was filed.

  1. What are other names for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989?

This Act is also known as the following:

  • SC/ST Act
  • The Prevention of Atrocity (PoA) Act
  • Atrocities Act
  1. Atrocity: What does it mean?

Atrocities are typically used to describe crimes committed against members of the SC and ST community in India. The word describes shockingly inhumane and cruel behaviour. In contrast, the term “crime” refers to an offence punishable by law. Furthermore, it includes crimes that contain elements of suffering in one form or another.

References

  1. https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3732709
  2. https://vikaspedia.in/social-welfare/scheduled-caste-welfare-1/the-scheduled-castes-and-the-scheduled-tribes-prevention-of-atrocities-amendment-act-2015.

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