Rational Interpretation of Protective Laws – SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

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The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act came with the objective to protect the marginalized sections of the society from exploitation. The statute guarantees protection against caste-based discrimination. The Act guarantees protection to individuals from various forms of discrimination and enacted with the purpose to make Indian society more inclusive. The Act is in furtherance of the Fundamental Rights of citizens.

The intention behind the Atrocities Act has undoubtedly set a benchmark to uphold the constitutional values of an inclusive democracy. But, there are certain legitimate apprehensions that have hindered its very essence wherein the provisions of the statute are used as a tool for extraneous purposes. According to the 2016 report of the National Crime Records Bureau, among the cases filed for crimes against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, 5,347 and 912 cases were found to be false respectively.

The Hon’ Supreme Court of India on 20/03/2018, passed a judgment wherein it provided safeguards to protect individuals from automatic arrests under SC/ST Act and directed measures to protect the liberty of an individual guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. The matter came before the Hon’ Court against the judgment of the Bombay High Court wherein the plea to quash the FIR against the public servant was denied. The bench comprising of Justice UU Lalit and Justice AK Goel, held that the proceedings against the appellant were liable to be quashed.

The Court reconsidered the provision of Section 18 of the Act wherein the anticipatory bail cannot be granted for the offenses under the Atrocities Act. The Court observed that the interpretation of the provisions must not be restricted in the literal sense. It is apprehended that the Act is at times used for extraneous purposes and as a tool for harassing individuals for false and baseless allegations. The Court, therefore, considering these aspects reached a conclusion to grant anticipatory bail in the cases filed under the SC/ST Act.

The key highlights of the judgment to protect individuals from automatic arrest under the Act and to protect the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution are given below:

  • No absolute bar on granting anticipatory bail
  • Approval for the arrest of public servant from appointing authority
  • Approval for the arrest of a non-public servant from S.S.P.
  • Reasons recorded to be scrutinized by the Magistrate to grant a further detention
  • The preliminary inquiry to be carried out by the DSP

The judgment has been delivered to check “abuse of law”. The rationale to show prima facie case for the commission of a crime under the Atrocities Act would determine the exclusion of Section 438 CrPC for grant of anticipatory bail. The judgment has come in the wake of rising violence against the members of the marginalized section.

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