Supreme Court’s Directions on Prevention of Misuse of SC/ST Act

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March 20, 2018

Case name: Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharastra

Date of Judgement: March 20, 2018

In this recent case taken up by Two-Judge Bench of the Supreme Court today, the Court was mainly concerned with the issue of offences punishable under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Atrocities Act).

In the case, the Appellant was registered for offences punishable under the Atrocities Act. The legal concern that was raised in the case was that under the scheme of the Atrocities Act, several offences solely depend upon the version of the complainant which may not be found to be true. It was urged by the amicus in the case that before liberty of a person is taken away, there has to be fair, reasonable and just procedure.

The Supreme Court in the case made some key observations pertaining to offences punishable under the Atrocities Act, which are enumerated below:

  • Potential impact of working of Atrocities Act on spreading casteism– That working of the Atrocities Act should not result in perpetuating casteism which can have an adverse impact on integration of the society and the constitutional values. Such concern has also been expressed by this Court on several occasions. Secularism is a basic feature of the Constitution. Irrespective of caste or religion, the Constitution guarantees equality in its preamble as well as other provisions including Articles 14-16.
  • That mere unilateral allegation by any individual belonging to any caste, when such allegation is clearly motivated and false, cannot be treated as enough to deprive a person of his liberty without an independent scrutiny. Thus, exclusion of provision for anticipatory bail cannot possibly, by any reasonable interpretation, be treated as applicable when no case is made out or allegations are patently false or motivated. If this interpretation is not taken, it may be difficult for public servants to discharge their bona fide functions and, in given cases, they can be black mailed with the threat of a false case being registered under the Atrocities Act, without any protection of law.
  • Abuse of Atrocities Act– That there are instances of abuse of the Atrocities Act by vested interests against political opponents in Panchayat, Municipal or other elections, to settle private civil disputes arising out of property, monetary disputes, employment disputes and seniority disputes. It may be noticed that by way of rampant misuse complaints are ‘largely being filed particularly against Public Servants/quasi-judicial/judicial officers with oblique motive for satisfaction of vested interests’.
  • That exclusion of provision for anticipatory bail will not apply when no prima facie case is made out or the case is patently false or mala fide. This may have to be determined by the Court concerned in facts and circumstances of each case in exercise of its judicial discretion.
  • It is thus patent that in cases under the Atrocities Act, exclusion of right of anticipatory bail is applicable only if the case is shown to bona fide and that prima facie it falls under the Atrocities Act and not otherwise. Section 18 does not apply where Section 18 does not apply where there is no prima facie case or to cases of patent false implication or when the allegation is motivated for extraneous reasons.
  • That in absence of any other independent offence calling for arrest, in respect of offences under the Atrocities Act, no arrest may be effected, if an accused person is a public servant, without written permission of the appointing authority and if such a person is not a public servant, without written permission of the Senior Superintendent of Police of the District. To avoid false implication, before FIR is registered, preliminary enquiry may be made whether the case falls in the parameters of the Atrocities Act and is not frivolous or motivated.
  • That there is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.
  • That in view of acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Atrocities Act non-public servant after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.
  • That to avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.

The entire case can be accessed here.