Answer: Ministry of Social Justice
Enrich Your Learning:
Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989:
Why in news?
- The Gujarat High Court has held that the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has supremacy over the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, as the caste of a child cannot override or prejudice his or her security and well-being.
Key Features of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989:
- The SC/ST Act was enacted in 1989. The objective of the SC/ST Act is to deliver justice to marginalised through proactive efforts, giving them a life of dignity, self-esteem and a life without fear, violence or suppression from the dominant castes.
- The SC/ST Act lists 22 offences relating to various patterns or behaviours inflicting criminal offences and breaking the self-respect and esteem of the scheduled castes and tribes community.
- This includes denial of economic, democratic and social rights, discrimination, exploitation and abuse of the legal process.
- According to the SC/ST Act, the protection is provided from social disabilities such as denial of access to certain places and to use customary passage, personal atrocities like forceful drinking or eating of inedible food sexual exploitation, injury etc, atrocities affecting properties, malicious prosecution, political disabilities and economic exploitation.
- For speedy trial, the SC/ST Act provides for a Court of Session to be a Special Court to try offences under this Act in each district.
Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018:
- The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018.
- The Amendment Act nullified the Court’s 20th March, 2018 judgment which had diluted the stringent provisions of the original Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
What is the issue?
- The Supreme Court had itself earlier recalled the March 20 judgment on October 1, 2019 in a review petition filed by the government.
- It had said it was wrong on the part of the March 20 judgment to treat all SC/ST community members as “a liar or crook”.
- It was against basic human dignity.
- The March 20 judgment had diluted the original 1989 legislation, saying they were using its provisions to file false criminal complaints against innocent persons.
March 20 Judgement:
- In the March 20, 2018 verdict, the two-judge Supreme Court bench had taken note of the rampant misuse of the stringent SC/ST Act against government servants and private individuals.
- Supreme Court in a verdict given on 20 March, 2018 held that:
- No arrest had to be made without prior permissionfrom an official of the rank SP or SSP.
- Allows anticipatory bail, if prime facie it is found that the complaint is misusing the law.
- Thisinstigated a huge uproar and protests in the nation and now SC on pressure from government has reversed the 2018 ruling and upheld initial provisions of the law.
- SC withdrew the ruling on ground that it was presumed that Dalits/ Tribals may misuse the law and this was contrary to legislative intent.
The status quo was restored which says: (SC/ST Act 1989)
- Preliminary inquiry shall not be required for registration of an FIR against any person.
- Investigating officers shall not require approval for arrest.
- No anticipatory bail to the accused person.
Salient Features of the Amendment Act, 2018:
- It added Section 18Ato the original Act. It delineates specific crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as atrocities and describes strategies and prescribes punishments to counter these acts.
- It identifies what acts constitute “atrocities” and all offences listed in the Act are cognizable.
- The police can arrest the offender without a warrant and start an investigation into the case without taking any orders from the court.
- The Act calls upon all the states to convert an existing sessions court in each district into a Special Court to try cases registered under it and provides for the appointment of Public Prosecutors/Special Public Prosecutors for conducting cases in special courts.
- It creates provisions for states to declare areas with high levels of caste violence to be “atrocity-prone” and to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order.
- It provides for the punishment for wilful neglect of duties by non-SC/ST public servants.
- It is implemented by the State Governments and Union Territory Administrations, which are provided due central assistance.