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SC/ST Act amendment

Topics Covered:

  1. Separation of powers between various organs dispute redressal mechanisms and institutions.
  2. Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  3. Mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of the vulnerable sections.

 

SC/ST Act amendment

 

What to study?

  • For Prelims: Features of SC/AT act and amendments, A 338A.
  • For Mains: SC’s guidelines and rationale behind, need for amendment and need for a permanent solution over the issue.

 

Context: Supreme Court has refused to stay amendments to SC/ST Act.

 

What’s the issue?

  1. In March 2018, Supreme Court diluted the stringent provisions of SC/ST Act (Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra).
  2. The verdict saw a huge backlash across the country. The government filed a review petition in the Supreme Court and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back to its original form.
  3. Following this, several petitions were filed challenging the amendments.

 

Guidelines issued by the Supreme Court and rationale behind it:

  • Supreme court gave the judgement on the pretext that Innocents cannot be terrorised by the provisions of the SC/ST Act and their fundamental rights need to be protected.
  • The court said that public servants could be arrested only with the written permission of their appointing authority, while in the case of private employees, the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it.
  • A preliminary inquiry should be conducted before the FIR was registered to check if the case fell within the ambit of the Act, and whether it was frivolous or motivated, the court ruled.

 

Why this decision?

The court referred to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for 2015, which said that closure reports had been filed in 15-16 percent of the complaints under the Act. Over 75% of such cases taken up by the courts had resulted in acquittals/ withdrawal or compounding of the cases.

Therefore, there was a need to safeguard innocent citizens against false implication and unnecessary arrest for which there is no sanction under the law.

 

What the Court missed?

Article 338 stipulates that governments should consult the “National Commission for SC” on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Castes.

Similarly, article 338 A mandates all major policy decision affecting STs to be taken in consultation with “National Commission for Scheduled Tribes”.

  • Considering this, Supreme Court is also bound to hear these commissions before pronouncements that are likely to impact SC/STs on a whole. However, while issuing guidelines, the court has not taken views of these stakeholders.

 

The government decided to retain original provisions because of the following reasons:

  • There had been no decrease in the atrocities committed on SC/ST people despite the laws meant to protect their civil rights.
  • The sad state of affairs was despite the existence of 195 special courts across 14 States to exclusively try Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) cases.

 

Figures and facts:

Cases registered: As per National Crime Records Bureau statistics, there is no decrease in the crimes against SC/ST people. The number of cases registered under the PoA in 2014 was 47,124; 44839 in 2015 and 47,338 in 2016.

Conviction rate: In 2014, 28.8% of the cases were convicted. The acquittal was 71.2% and pendency of cases 85.3%. The next year saw 25.8% convictions, 74.2% acquittal and 87.3% pendency. In 2016, the convictions was 24.9%, acquittal 75.1% and pendency 89.3%.

 

The Amendment Bill seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act:

  • The first stipulates that for the purposes of the Act, “preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.”
  • The second stipulates that the arrest of a person accused of having committed an offence under the Act would not require any approval.
  • The third says that the provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act, “notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court.”

 

Way ahead:

The amendments to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 2018 is a move in the right direction. However, no matter how strong a piece of legislation is, all will depend on how well it is implemented.

If the implementing agency does not do its bit then the legislative effort would not be successful in the long run. The administrative set up, which includes police machinery, investigating agencies and judiciary, has to work together to effectively implement such a law.

 

Sources: the hindu.