SCHEDULED CASTES AND TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) ACT — Law Insider

By Snehil Sharma

Indian society has always been known for the diversity of castes which prevails within the country. However, out of those numerous castes prevailing within India, at least 400 castes are considered as scheduled castes and scheduled tribe and those who belong to such castes are regarded as untouchables.

This system of caste was earlier based upon occupation of individuals, however, with passage of time it became unalterable and hereditary. Upper cast received many privileges of caste system in the earlier times and lower caste only received repression.

Post-Independence, various provisions were provided within Indian Constitution to safeguard the interests of minorities but it was eventually realized that mere constitutional provisions will not be able to uplift the members of Scheduled caste and tribes.

So for this purpose a separate legislation called “The Scheduled caste and tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was introduced by the Government to curb the problems relating to such class of people.

WHAT IS SCHEDULED CASTES AND TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) ACT?

The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of the year 1989 is an Act which was enacted with an intent to curb atrocities taking place against the SC (scheduled castes) and ST (scheduled tribes). This Act is also referred as the POA, SC/ST Act, Atrocities Act or simply the Prevention of Atrocities Act.

This Act prescribed 22 offences concerning various behaviors and patterns which inflict criminal intention to break self-esteem & self-respect of those who belong to scheduled castes and tribes’ community.

These offences are concerning denial of democratic, economic, social rights vested with individual and any sort of exploitation, discrimination, and abuse of the legal framework which is against the rights enshrined within Constitution of India.

This Act will remove the social disabilities which include denial of access to certain specific religious or public places and other personal atrocities such as sexual exploitation, economic exploitation, malicious prosecution, forceful consumption of any edible product which is not fit for consumption etc.

This Act was introduced to deliver appropriate justice by making proactive efforts towards the marginalized class of people and offer them a life of dignity without any fear, suppression and violence.

CLASSIFICATION OF THIS ACT

The rations of Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act can generally be subdivided into three different categories based upon the issues & problems concerning atrocities taking place against SC/ST people and the position which they hold within society:

Provides relevant provisions relating to criminal law. It specifically establishes criminal liability on numerous acts which have been specifically defined as crimes, and also broadens the ambit of certain categories of penalizations which have been provided in the IPC(Indian Penal Code).

Provides relief and compensation for those individuals who have been a victim of atrocities.

Provides legal framework for setting up authorities specially for the purpose of monitoring & exertion of the Act.

INTENTION BEHIND THIS ACT

The intention behind this Act was to delineate the crimes taking place specially against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as an atrocity and provide appropriate strategies to curb the same. It also includes appropriate punishments in order to counter such acts.

It defines those offences which constitute “atrocities” if committed against any individual belonging to SC/ST community and such offences which are listed in the Act are considered as cognizable offences.

The police had power to arrest the offender without any sort of warrant and initiate an investigation into such case without obtaining any orders from the respected Court. However, if we closely observe the statistics, it can be easily observed that this act was not able to achieve its objective to the fullest.

STATISTICS CONCERNING THE ACT BEFORE 2018

The statistics concerning Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act can be observed from the following table:

It is pertinent to note from the above statistics that due to poor investigation procedure, denial of appropriate legal aid and lack of victim protection, the number of cases registered was very less prior to 2018 if compared to the number of incidents taking place in reality.

KASHINATH MAHAJAN CASE JUDGEMENT OF 2018

In the case of Kashinath Mahajan vs State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court of India closely observed the number of cases which were related to the Act and decided that this Act was being misused and prescribed measures for keeping a check to prevent the same.

The court in its decision of 20 thMarch 2018 also laid down following three new rules in order to prevent the possible misuse of the act:

  • It provided direction concerning bar upon anticipatory bail under S. 18.
  • It prescribed that any person will only be arrested if such arrest is approved by appointing authority (in cases of public servant) and SP (in other cases).
  • It prescribed preliminary enquiry in all the cases where a complaint is lodged.

In response to this judgement, the Parliament passed Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act which introduced Section 18A which contradicted every single rule introduced in the Kashinath case judgement. As per section 18A:

  • No preliminary inquiry was required for lodging FIR against any individual accused.
  • No approval was required for an investigating officer for arresting any person accused under the Act either from appointing authority or from Superintendent of Police
  • Bar was prescribed on granting anticipatory bail as per Section 438 of Crpc,1973 to any individual who is accused under this Amendment Act.

Various Petitions were filed in the Court to challenge this Amendment Act of 2018 based upon the grounds that it does not comply with the fundamental right to personal liberty & right to equality enshrined under Art.14 & 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Prathvi Raj Chauhan was one of the petitioner who filed petition against the amendment which was introduced alleging it to be arbitrary.

PRESENT SCENARIO OF SCHEDULED CASTES AND TRIBES (PREVENTION OF ATROCITIES) ACT

On 10 thFebruary 2020, Supreme Court in the case of Prathvi Raj Chauhan Vs. Union of India decided that Amendment of 2018 will be upheld. The three- judge bench constituting Justice Arun Mishra, Justice Ravindra Bhat & Justice Vineet Saran held that the judgment passed in the Kashinath Mahajan case has placed an additional undue burden over individuals from minority community, who had suffered atrocity which was based on caste. The court held that directions passed in the earlier case entailed the judicial law-making which is a power vested with legislature and not judiciary.

Additionally, the directions of Mahajan case were considered as impractical and unconditional ban on the grant of anticipatory bail which was decided in the 2018 judgement was said to be restored by the amendment. However, Justice Ravindra Bhat, who was a part of three-judge bench of SC, held that the courts will have the power to quash FIRs under exceptional circumstances.

CASE LAWS RELATED TO SCHEDULED CASTES AND TRIBES

There have been various instances where Indian courts have while deciding cases relating to Scheduled Castes and Tribes and have provided their opinion concerning the same:

  • In the case of Lata Singh vs. the State of UP, Hon’ble Supreme Court held that the concept of inter-caste marriages should be considered to be in national interest as it intends to destroy the caste based system.
  • In the case of Bhagwan Dass v. Delhi, the court deemed that honor killings should be categorized in the “rarest of rare crimes” and should be punished with death penalty.
  • In the case of State of Kerala v. U.P. Hassan, where the accused verbally abused the complainant calling him “Pulaya Nadi” which means son of a prostitute or adulterer. The court held that this cannot be considered as a motive of insulting someone by using caste name as it is not a caste implication.
  • In the case of Karan Singh v. State of Haryana, complainant was molested as she was a woman. It was held that such molestation was not done because she belonged to scheduled cast and hence, the accused will not be prosecuted under this Act.

CONCLUSORY ANALYSIS & RECOMMENDATIONS

The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act proved to be a boon for those people who were referred as untouchables in the past. It provided them the status & respect which they always deserved within the society. Its introduction was a historic, not only for the minority communities but for those as well who were committed to provide such right to them. India can emerge as a global leader if it is able to maintain the principles of equality, justice, liberty, and fraternity within the national borders without any discrimination and oppression based specifically on caste. This can only be achieved if the discrimination taking place within the society is strongly prevented.

This Act has tried to create such equal platform in the best possible manner. However, there is a long way to go to achieve absolute equality and safeguard every individual from such caste based discrimination by creating appropriate legal framework. Following recommendations can be considered to fix the problems which are prevailing in the existing legal framework:

  • Providing speedy Trial to the victims of caste based discrimination.
  • Providing appropriate protection to witness of the case.
  • Considering audio-video recording as an evidence to reach conclusion.
  • Focused training of authorities to deal with such cases.

Originally published at https://lawinsider.in on September 21, 2020.