A bench of Justices AK Goel and UU Lalit yesterday announced a new procedure to be followed while dealing with complaints under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, thus nullifying the automatic arrest.
Before we discuss the verdict, the media and the political society has been touched by the judgement in every spirit where they are attempting to either justify or mollify the verdict, and press for a review.
The act was brought on the statute book in 1989 to provide for prevention of atrocities on the persons of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The section 3 of the act defines ‘atrocity’ and lists out all the possible acts that may amount to humiliation and shaming of the members of the persons from the concerned communities.
To put an end to all such atrocious conduct of the high caste towards to low caste, the act was brought in to add force to the existing constitutional protections. The act added a punitive angle to the atrocities and made it a fast track measure to be had recourse to in the wake of a violation. The act contemplated urgent imprisonment based on a complaint, and was also amended in 2015 by NDA government to make a more stringent set of laws.
Despite the efforts, the civil society may not expect a radical change in the attitudes of the people, and at the same time, we may also not expect the SC/ST to be honest, so as to avid misuse of the law.
Thus, this gave the Supreme Court the fertile ground to put in place the procedural reforms. It may be noted here that the NCRB data for 2015 reveals that there has been a clear 16% were false while 75% cases ended up in acquittal or withdrawal! Also there have been cases where the NCRB has recorded a rise in the number of cases and there has been a failure on the part of the State to ensure convictions.
The above extremes may easily be interpreted to mean that there exists a situation which may have caught the attention of the judges. The Judges saw that there were instances where the SC/ST colleagues or juniors used the act as a weapon, or a threat to coerce the higher officials belonging to the higher caste. There have been many cases which have been settled outside the Court, and there have been many occasions which have witnessed animosity between the two rungs of the society.
The Act was a necessity, but also added fuel to the fire of casteism where it fanned the ill-will harboured between the individuals of the two castes. The Court has also accepted the fact that the re needs to be a balance between protection of interests and abuse.
Now, the new procedure which the Court has tried to bring in place seeks to put in place a mandatory approval of the Appointing Authority in the cases where a government employee is concerned and the approval of the Senior Superintendent of Police in cases of non-government employee, for arrest. Thus, prior to arrest there has to be detailed inquiry which produces sufficient proof of the culpability of the individual which will not ensure greater transparency while it will also give a fair trial.
There is one aspect that may be looked into is, the abuse of the process of inquiry by the police, which may often prove to be contrary to the in-house inquiries. We don’t assume that the police establishment will abuse the process but the officers in responsible posts must be made responsible for the same.