The 2018 amendment to the SC/ST Atrocities law has been upheld by the Supreme Court.
- On March 20, 2018, a two-judge bench of the Supreme Court in Dr. Subash Kashinath Mahajan vs State of Maharashtra declared that there is no absolute bar against granting anticipatory bail under the SC/ST atrocities law if the judicial scrutiny finds that the case is mala fide or if no case is prima facie made out.
- As this judgment by the SC will make it easy for SC/ST culprits to get bail and subvert the case, and also it has diluted the original intention of the SC/ST Act.
- Therefore, the government made an amendment to the SC/ST (Prevention of atrocities) Act of 1989.
- The amendment introduced Section 18A, which reaffirms the original legislative intention that Section 438 CrPC – pre-arrest bail – is not applicable to the accused booked under atrocities Act.
- The amendment was challenged by Prathvi Raj Chouhan and others stating that the amendment is arbitrary in nature.
- Now, on February 10, 2020, the Supreme Court gave its judgment in Prathvi Raj Chouhan case.
- The apex court has upheld Section 18A of the SC/ST atrocities act.
- However, the three-judge bench consisting of Justices Arun Mishra, S. Ravindra Bhat, and Vineet Saran stated that a High Court has an ‘inherent power’ to grant anticipatory bail prima facie an offence under the SC/ST atrocities act has not been made out.
- The Judges further stated that the provision must be used by the High Court in exceptional cases so that the provision is not misused.
- Justice S Ravindhra Bhat opined that the chance of filing a false atrocity case is probably high in urban areas and the ‘inherent power’ should be used sparingly by Courts to uphold the intention of the Parliament.
- He further noted that the provision should not become a norm as it will lead to a miscarriage of justice and abuse of the process of law.
- He also observed that the Constitution and the statutes such as the SC/ST act are to all humans as equal, their innate genius is allowed outlets through equal opportunities and each individual is fearless in his/her pursuit of their dreams.
- However, Justice Bhat observed that unless the provisions of the SC/ST atrocities Act are enforced in the true spirit, the dream of an ideal casteless society will be a mirage.
Conclusion The clarification from the Supreme Court is much needed as people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are still being marginalised in many parts of the country. Due to the power of the upper castes, they are able to subvert the judicial system through loopholes in the laws. The judgment by the Supreme Court upholding Section 18A will close one such loophole.