Plea in Supreme Court against changes to amended SC/ST law

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court on Tuesday challenging the fresh amendments made to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as violative of the fundamental rights to equality, life and liberty.

The amendments had restored the legislative intent of the original Act of 1989, which barred anticipatory bail to a person accused of insulting or hurting a Dalit.

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill of 2018 overrides a March 20 judgment of the Supreme Court pronounced by a Bench of Justices (now retired) A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit restricting the powers of the police under the Criminal Procedure Code to arrest a suspect. The verdict had also read down a specific bar in the original Atrocities Act of 1989 against anticipatory bail.

The judgment reasoned that many false cases are foisted on innocent persons under the 1989 Act. The fundamental right of an innocent to be protected from arbitrary arrest should be protected. For this, the court had ordered that a Deputy Superintendent of Police should conduct a “preliminary enquiry” into every complaint of atrocity committed against an SC/ST community member.

Subsequently, the arrest of the accused persons should be approved by the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned. The judgment had led to widespread violence and loss of lives across the country, following which the government moved the Supreme Court for a review.

The 2018 Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha even as the review petition of the government is pending in the Supreme Court, overcomes the March 20 judgment by amending the 1989 Act to introduce Section 18A.

This provision does away with the need for a preliminary enquiry or requirement for an investigating officer to take prior approval from his superior before registering an FIR on a complaint under the Act.

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