New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the amendment to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act by which Parliament had restored the stringent provisions of the law which were watered down by the court by its March 2018 judgment.
Upholding the amendments to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act brought in to neutralise the dilution of the stringent provisions by the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling, a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran said that “in cases where no prima facie materials exist warranting arrest in a complaint, the court has the inherent power to direct pre-arrest bail”.
Speaking for the bench, Justice Mishra said that a “preliminary inquiry is permissible” only in certain circumstances and “if the complaint does not make out a prima facie case for applicability of the act, the bar created by Section 18 and Section 18A(i) shall not apply”.
Justice Mishra added that a court can, “in exceptional cases, exercise powers under Section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for quashing cases to prevent misuse of provisions on settled parameters....”
Justice S. Ravindra Bhat, while agreeing with Justice Mishra, said: “Any interference with the provisions of the Act, particularly with respect to the amendments precluding preliminary enquiry, or provisions which remove the bar against arrest of public servants accused of offences punishable under the Act, would not be a positive step.”
On the issue of the SC/ST law being used to level false allegations, Justice Bhat said: “It is important to keep oneself reminded that while sometimes (perhaps mostly in urban areas) false accusations are made, those are not necessarily reflective of the prevailing and widespread social
prejudices against members of these oppressed classes.”
Recalling the journey the law has undertaken over the years and the fears of its misuse, Justice Bhat said: “All these considerations far outweigh the petitioners’ concern that innocent individuals would be subjected to what are described as arbitrary processes of investigation and legal proceedings, without adequate safeguards.”
He said that the right to a trial with all safeguards are available to those accused of committing offences under the Act and they remain unchanged by the amendment.
The court said this while declining a challenge to the amendment to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, by which Parliament had restored the stringent provisions of the law, including bar on anticipatory bail, which were watered down by the court by its March 2018 judgment. The 2018 judgment had led to widespread protests across the country, which had turned violent in some places.