The Union Cabinet has tabled a Bill to amend the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing session of the Parliamentary proceedings. The Bill intends to give effect to the following provision:
“18.A- (1) After Section 18 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, following section shall be inserted, namely:-
(a) preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a FIR against any person; or
(b) the Investigating Officer shall not require approval for the arrest, if necessary, of any person;
against whom an accusation of having committed an offence under this Act has been made and no procedure other than that provided under the Act or the Code shall apply.
(2)- The provisions of Section 438 of the Code shall not apply to case under this Act, notwithstanding any judgment or Order of direction of any Court.”
This Amendment Bill has come at the backdrop of a recent Apex Court decision laying out few procedural safeguards to avoid misuse of the provisions of the SC/ST Act, 1989 for extraneous considerations.
Citing rampant misuse of the SC/ST Act, a Division Bench of the Supreme Court had ordered that on an information received about the commission of an offence solely falling under the square and ambit of the SC/ST Act, a preliminary inquiry may first be conducted so as to ascertain the veracity and genuineness of the allegations before registering an FIR to such effect. It was also laid down that the arrest of a public servant can only be after an approval of appointing authority and of a non-public servant after the approval of the Senior Superintendent of Police, which is to be granted in appropriate cases. To compound this, it was furthermore added that any violation of the afore-mentioned directions will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.
The Centre opposed on the premise that the Order issuing directions by the Apex Court has the potential to reduce the deterrent impact of the Act and thereby will expose the dalits and tribals to increased vulnerable situations. While requesting the Court to stay the Order, Mr. KK Venugopal, Attorney General of India submitted that, “The insensivity of the Court towards social justice cause and judicial dilution of a stringent protective social justice legislation by resorting to judicial excess in total disregard to the legislative intent has been committed in passing of the directions.” However, the Court had refused to stay the Order.
There was a widespread resentment in the country among the SC/STs community. Representations were made by the leaders of the ruling government before the Prime Minister, the Opposition leaders knocked the doors of the President to effectuate a Review Petition to be filed against the said Order on the ground that the Court was creating a de-novo presumption that cases falling under the SC/ST Act are bogus.
A review petition was then filed by the Centre wherein it was contended that the aforesaid judgment rendered by the Apex Court is a clear case of judicial amendment to the SC/ST Act and that the judgment has affected the morale and confidence of the people belonging to the SC/STs category. It was brought on record that the decision led to commotion, confusion, anger and sense of disharmony. However, the plea was also turned down by the Apex Court.
Political unity over the Bill
In the light of the constant criticisms faced by the Opposition, the Union Cabinet had agreed last week to table this Bill before the Parliament. The Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Shri Thaawar Chand Gehlot, in the Statement of Objects and Reasons annexed with the amending provision has stressed on the intent of the Legislature to avoid commission of offences of atrocities against the Dalits. It is also mentioned that the power to take a decision with respect to arrest of an individual as conferred by the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 cannot be taken away from the Investigating Officers.
Various allies of the NDA have lauded the decision of the Union Cabinet, whereas on the other hand, Shiv Sena Supremo Shri Uddhav Thackrey has described the recent move as an effort to further divide the society. Given the politically sensitive issue, the Bill has great chances of being passed in the Lok Sabha without much discussion, debate or deliberation.