Published On: Tue, Apr 3rd, 2018

SC refuses to stay its order on SC/ST Act, denies any dilution

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to stay its ruling, which activists say has diluted a law aimed at preventing atrocities on Dalits and tribes, as it asserted that it wanted to protect innocent people from being punished.

We are only concerned about innocent people being put behind bars

A bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, however, said compensation can be paid to victims alleged atrocities under The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, even without a FIR being registered.

The bench said this on a plea by the Centre seeking recall of its March 20 order where the apex court had said that no arrest would be affected on a complaint under the Act without an inquiry.

Refusing to budge on its five directions issued on March 20, the court said: “We are not against the law or its implementation” and the directions in no way diluted the law but were aimed to protect the innocent people from being punished. It describe its direction for preliminary inquiry before an FIR is registered on a complaint as “filter”.

“People who are agitating have not read the order. There is a lot of hearsay,” observed Justice Goel.

The court said that all they have done is to read the Constitution’s Article 21 – guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty – in the act and that should happen with every statute.

Asserting that it has in no way diluted or tinkered with the law to protect the SC/STs, Justice Goel said: “We are only giving effect to existing law. It is not a law of arrest that the moment an FIR is lodged, the accused is arrested” and the “procedure established by law should be fair, just and reasonable”.

As Attorney General KK Venugopal said that the FIR is subject to preliminary inquiry (PE) and there is no outer limit for the conduct of PE, Justice Goel said that they has not said it in our directions as in “other part of the judgment one week is mentioned” and it can be done in one hour or even less, citing a paragraph in their March 20 judgment.

As Venugopal said that there was no need for the verification of complaint, Justice Goel questioned it. “Why no verification is required … money (to pay compensation under the Act) is going from public exchequer.”

When the Attorney General argued that there is a tremendous amount of deprivation, discontent and agitation in SC/ST community who had been oppressed for thousands of years, Justice Goel observed, “We are not concerned about what is happening outside this court. Those agitating on streets may not have even read our judgment. Vested interests are also involved some time.

“We are only concerned about innocent people being put behind bars. We are not against the Act at all. But innocents can’t be punished on unilateral version. Why does government want people to be arrested without verification.?”

As Venugopal argued why SC/ST people will implicate anyone, the bench said: “Our approach is to protect innocent people… If there is an unverifiable allegation against an official, how will he function, how AG will function.”

There is abuse of law not just by the SC/ST members, but by police, someone else or by some vested interest or purpose, said amicus curiae Amarendra Sharan.

Wondering at the arguments of the Central government for seeking review of March 20 judgment, he said that judgment was founded on the statistics of misuse and abuse of law furnished by the government during the course of the hearing.

He said that the March 20 directions in no way diluted, took away or struck down the provisions of SC/ST act and the sole motivating factor is protection of innocent.

Describing Article 14 (Equality before law) and Article 21 as core of the Constitution, Sharan said that “protection of a person under Article 21 is paramount”.

Having clarified that non-registration of FIR would not come in the way of grant of compensation and its direction of PE in no way comes in the way of registering cases under penal offences and other statues, the court gave two days to different parties to the case to file written submissions and three days to file rejoinders as it directed the next hearing after two weeks.

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