NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court (SC) of India on Monday upheld the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018 enacted to counter the social implications of the March 20, 2018, judgment of the court which had diluted the provisions of the Act.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that a court can grant anticipatory bail only in cases where a prima facie case is not made out. Justices Vineet Saran and Ravindra Bhat are the other members of the Bench.
The bench said that a preliminary inquiry is not essential before lodging an FIR under the act and the approval of senior police officials is not needed.
Justice Ravindra Bhat said that in a concurring verdict that every citizen needs to treat fellow citizens equally and foster the concept of fraternity.
He said that a court can quash the FIR if a prima facie case is not made out under the SC/ST Act and the liberal use of anticipatory bail will defeat the intention of Parliament.
The top court’s verdict came on a batch of PILs challenging the validity of the SC/ST Amendment Act of 2018. PILs were filed to nullify the effect of the apex court’s 2018 ruling, which had diluted the provisions of the stringent Act.
A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court had held in its March 20, 2018 verdict that there will be no automatic arrest on a complaint filed under the SC/ST Amendment Act 2018. The bench had also introduced anticipatory bail provision under the Act.
However, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court on September 30, 2019, restored the automatic arrest in cases of atrocities against SC and STs. The Centre had filed a review petition before the Supreme Court asking it to review its March 2018 order.
The SC/ST Amendment Act 2018:
The SC/ST Amendment Act 2018 excludes the provision of anticipatory bail for a person who has been accused of atrocities against SC and STs.
Under the act, the investigating officer does not require the approval of any authority to arrest the person accused of such crimes.
Further, the act also does not mandate a preliminary enquiry before registration of a First Information Report (FIR) against the person accused under the Act.
The judgement was delivered on petitions, which argued that the 2018 Amendment to the SC/ST Act should be struck down, as it violates Articles 14, 19, 21 of the Indian constitution.
The petitioners contended that the amendments including the exclusion of anticipatory bail are arbitrary and unjust.
The petitioners stated that being born as an upper caste cannot be the sole ground for a presumption of guilt so as to deprive a person of his liberty without an opportunity before an independent forum.
They argued that the power of arrest should only be exercised after complying with all the safeguards listed under Sections 41 and 41A of the Cr.P.C such as scrutiny, credible information and just and reasonable procedure.