Govt review plea in top court against SC/ST Act verdict goes to 3-judge Bench

The Supreme Court on Friday referred a review petition filed by the government against a March 20, 2018 judgment of the court to a three-judge Bench.

The verdict allowed anticipatory bail to persons accused of committing atrocities on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It had reasoned that the anti-atrocities law was misused by some members of the community as a means for “blackmail”. It saw a huge public backlash. Several people died in the protests that followed and crores worth property were destroyed. The government reacted by filing the review petition and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back to its original form last year.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018 nullified the March 20 judgment. The original 1989 Act bars anticipatory bail.

Several petitions were filed last year challenging the Amendment Act. The lead petitioner, advocate Prithvi Raj Chauhan, even called the amendments a “blunder” and a violation of the fundamental right to equality and personal liberty. The Supreme Court, however, refused to stay the implementation of the amendments.

A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and U.U. Lalit had finally reserved the case for judgment on May 1.

The Centre had argued in the court that the amendments were necessary as SC/STs would continue to face the same social stigma, poverty and humiliation that they had been subjected to for centuries.

The government said there was no decrease in the atrocities committed on members of SC/ST communities despite the laws meant to protect their civil rights. It said the sad state of affairs was prevalent despite the existence of 195 special courts across 14 States to exclusively try PoA cases. As per the National Crime Records Bureau statistics, there is no decrease in the crimes against SC/ST members. The number of cases registered under the PoA in 2014 was 47124, while in 2015 it was 44839 and 47,338 in 2016.

In 2014, 28.8% of the cases were convicted, there were 71.2% acquittals and 85.3% cases are pending. The next year saw 25.8% convictions, 74.2% acquittals and 87.3% pendency. In 2016, there was 24.9% convictions, 75.1% acquittals and 89.3% pendency.

“The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 is the least which the country owes to this section of society who have been denied several civil rights since generations and have been subjected to indignities, humiliations and harassment,” the government had argued.


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