Ravi Shankar Prasad said that govt was not a party to the court’s decision and ‘respectfully’ did not agree with its reasoning.
New Delhi: On a day of violent protests and “Bharat Bandh” by dalit organiations against a Supreme Court order that has allegedly diluted the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the Union government sought a review of the March 20 verdict.
Overruling a Bombay high court decision and offering relief to a Maharashtra government employee, the apex court had said on March 20 that a preliminary inquiry should precede the arrest of an accused under the Act and that accused are entitled to anticipatory bail.
The Centre said in its review petition that the procedural checks ordered by the apex court by way of preliminary inquiry before arrest will reduce the rate of registration of cases and conviction, increase pendency and act as a deterrent against filing FIRs.
Union law and justice minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the government was not a party to the Supreme Court’s decision on the SC/ST Act and “respectfully” did not agree with its reasoning behind the verdict on March 20.
Normally review petitions are heard in the chamber by the judges but the Centre in this case has prayed for an open court hearing. No date has yet been fixed for taking up the review petition.
On March 20, the apex court had suggested procedural changes related to police action after a complaint is filed under the Act. The verdict came during the hearing on an appeal filed by Maharashtra government servant, Subash Kasinath Mahajan, who had challenged a Bombay high court verdict refusing to quash an FIR for his alleged adverse remarks against a dalit colleague.
Relaxing the provisions for immediate arrest of an accused, the apex court had on March 20 held that an accused can be taken into custody only after a preliminary inquiry that shows that a prima facie case is made out.
“In view of the acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Act, arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the senior superintendent of police (SSP)…,” the court had said.
The Centre’s review petition said that the court ought to have appreciated the fact that since atrocities affect the dignity and life of the SCs/STs, an FIR should be registered at the earliest and any room for the accused to get anticipatory bail will weaken probe.
On the apex court’s finding that the Act was being misused, the Centre said that contrary to the fear of misuse of the law data had shown its weak implementation.
The central government said that when the mandate of Parliament is for strict implementation of law, it would not be permissible for the court to dilute the provisions of the Act by laying down guidelines.
The government also pleaded for striking a balance between the right to life and liberty of the accused and the victims who allege ill-treatment.
In view of the continuing offences against SCs/STs it will be more meaningful to affirm the object of the Act and not to make it easier for the accused to get away from arrest, the Centre said.
Quoting 2016 data of the National Crime Records Bureau, the Centre said 47,338 cases were registered under the Act and only 24.9 per cent of the said cases ended in conviction.
The Act, which aims to abolish of untouchability and punish crimes against SCs/STs, provides for a maximum punishment of five years maximum and minimum jail sentence of six months, along with fine.
Offences under the Act include abusing in caste name, tonsuring of head, moustache or garlanding with chappals of members of SCs/STs, denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights, imposing social or economic boycott, using or permitting manual scavenging and forcing SC or ST women to serve as devadasi in temples.