Centre justifies amendment in SC/ST Act, says SCs/STs people continue to face atrocities, humiliation
NEW DELHI: The Centre has justified the decision to amend Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act to overturn Supreme Court verdict to introduce anticipatory bail provision, saying that people from SCs/STs communities continue to face atrocities and they need protection.
In an affidavit filed in the apex court, which is examining the validity of the amendment, the Centre said that there was no illegality in the amendment and the court should not entertain plea against it and the law was changed in its discharge of constitutional obligation to protect the disadvantaged communities.
“Centre is committed to discharge its constitutional and statutory obligation of protecting the interest of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe population which has, since generations suffered disadvantage resulting from various social and economic factors. It is the most humble submission of the Central government that the statutory provision under the Act and its impugned amendments is the least which the country owes to this section of society who have been denied several civil rights since generations and have been subjected to indignities, humiliations and harassments,” the government said in its reply.
“The Act and the amendment provisions are in the fulfilment of the commitment of the government to secure and protect a person belonging to SCs/Sts from such indignities, humiliation and harassments,” it said.
A month after Parliament approved amendment of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, validity of the law came under judicial scanner with SC issuing notice to Centre seeking its response on its legality on a batch of petitions filed by lawyer Prathvi Raj Chauhan and others.
The bill, approved by the Parliament on August 9 and subsequently notified by government, rules out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs. The legislation also provides that no preliminary enquiry will be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.
The Centre brought the amendment in view of national wide protest against the order of apex court which had ruled that there would be no automatic arrest on a complaint filed under the Act and preliminary enquiry be first conducted within seven days by police before taking any action. Expressing concern over rampant misuse of Act, the Supreme Court had stepped in to provide safeguards to innocent people and introduced the provision of anticipatory bail for accused despite Section 18 of the Act says that pre-arrest bail was not to apply to persons committing an offence under the law.
Challenging the new law, the petitioners alleged that the Centre brought the amendment for getting political mileage and it committed the same blunder done by Rajiv Gandhi government when the apex court order in Shah Bano case was overturned.
“The rare move was adopted by the central government, to get the political mileage and under pressure from alliance partners and also worried over the prospects of antagonizing huge vote bank ahead of next year Loksabha elections. The government decided to amend the Act and restored the previous provisions in such a manner, so that an innocent can’t access to avail the right of anticipatory bail. In both the Houses of Parliament this amendment was passed by the voice vote, without any discussion or debate,” the petition said.
It said that Act was being misused to frame innocent people and the apex court was right in providing protective provision to safeguard the interest and dignity of the innocent and to prevent misuse the Act as an instrument to “blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance”.
“There cannot be any mandate under the law for arrest of an innocent. Presumption of innocence is a human right. No doubt, placing of burden of proof on accused in certain circumstances may be permissible but there cannot be presumption of guilt so as to deprive a person of his liberty without an opportunity before an independent forum or court,” it said.
“What is surprising about this is, the entire situation is eerily similar to that of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He committed the biggest blunder of his tenure in the Shah Bano case. With a brute majority that he had in both the houses of parliament, he overturned the 1985 SC judgement in Shah Bano case and which opened the door for dangerous precedents,” it said.