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SC verdict upholds Centre’s amendments to SC/ST Atrocities Act

Table of Contents

  • Brief Overview
  • PoA Act Explained
  • SC Judgement (March 2018)
  • Amendment (Aug 2018)
  • SC Judgement (October 2019)

Brief Overview

On Feb 10, 2020 The SC had passed a judgement, essentially upholding Centre’s amendments to the SC/ST atrocities act.

This has, in effect revoked the SC’s previous judgement dated March 20, 2018

In practical terms, this judgment has restored the original intent of the act/law

Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, 1989 Explained

Historical origin of the act

In 1955, the {PCR} Act, was enacted which prescribed punishment for any disability arising from practice of ‘untouchability’. (in accordance with Art. 17)

As the PCR Act covered offences of untouchability, but not of atrocities, The PoA Act, 1989 was enacted and enforced on 31.01.1990 to prevent atrocities against members of SCs and STs.

Prevention of Atrocities Act, originally passed in 1989 is,

An Act to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled tribes, and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences and for matters connected therewith.

The act covers multiple cognizable offences. A case will be undertaken under the PoA act when the victim is from the SC/ST community and the accused is Not from the SC/ST community.

Hence offense committed by a SC/ST person on Another SC/ST person will not come under the act.

Salient Features of the Act:

Directions given by the act

  • For speedy trial, the State Government shall establish an Exclusive Special Court for one or more Districts
  • The concerned SHO/IO is directed to conduct the investigation and file charge sheet in the Special Court within a period of sixty days, and to explain the delay if any, in writing
  • Courts are directed to ensure that cases under this Act are disposed of within a period of two months.
  • Section 438 of the CrPC not to apply to persons committing an offence under the Act.
  • Section 360 of the CrPC or the provisions of the Probation of Offenders Act not to apply to persons guilty of an offence under the Act.
  • Act to override other laws—Save as otherwise provided in this Act, the provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything inconsistent therewith contained in any other law

Supreme court Judgement (Mar 20, 2018)

Background: The NCRB data of 2016 -> 11060 cases filed under PoA

Out of which 935 cases were identified as “false cases”.

The case Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. the State of Maharashtra. (2018)

Brought change in some of the Salient features of the act –

The Bench consisting of justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit, observed that –

“Working of the SC/ST act” Should not result in perpetuating casteism” and further directed that –

  • Police conduct a preliminary enquiry on whether complaint under the law is “frivolous or motivated” before registering a case.
  • Cases filed under PoA should be investigated by a DSP or above ranking officer
  • A public servant accused under the act can only be arrested after approval from his/her appointing authority
  • A non-public servant can only be arrested after approval of SSP
  • Allowed for the provision of anticipatory bail (CrPC 438) and also allowed for the provision of such Bail by Magistrate court (prev. restricted to only high court)

PoA amendment (Aug 2018)

The union government amended the act through a Bill in the Lok Sabha on the August of 2018

The bill inserts sections

  • 18A (1) – “a preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of an FIR against any person”
  • 18A (1) b – “The IO shall not require approval for the arrest of the accused”

SC judgement (1st October 2019)

On 1st October 2019, The SC bench consisting of justices Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BR Gavai upheld the SC/ST amendment act (passed Aug 2018) and recalled its March 20, 2018 verdict, hence restoring the act to its original intent.

Remarks by the SC

The SC remarked that “The judiciary can’t presume that Dalits and Tribals may misuse the law”

In its judgment on the government’s review petition, the bench reasoned that human failing and not caste is the reason behind the lodging of false criminal complaints.

The Supreme Court condemned its own earlier judgment, saying it was against “basic human dignity” to treat all SC/ST community members as “a liar or crook.”

Members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, due to backwardness, cannot even muster the courage to lodge an FIR, much less, a false one, the judgment noted.


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