WITH the Supreme Court on Tuesday diluting stringent provisions mandating immediate arrest under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Dalit activists and leaders in Mumbai said on Wednesday that the apex court’s order could be misused, and it could also enable bail in existing cases. The Maratha Kranti Morcha, on the other hand, welcomed the step.
Sanjay Bhalerao, an activist who filed an intervention application in the case pertaining to the Bhima Koregoan violence earlier this year, said the court’s directions are generic in nature. “The SC directions about the arrest are generic. In any case, under any law, the police authorities conduct an investigation before arresting anyone. Also, the police can seek prosecution against a complainant who has filed a false complaint. It is applicable to all Acts, and not only to the Atrocities Act,” said Bhalerao, a social worker from Mumbai.
He added that the SC verdict does not say anything about anticipatory bail. “The SC hasn’t touched section 18 of the Act that says the accused can’t secure anticipatory bail in Atrocities Act cases. So, it means that the SC hasn’t stopped the police from making immediate arrests,” said Bhalerao.
Raju Waghmare, who heads the SC/ST wing of the Maharashtra Congress, said the SC order could create legal complications. “The SC order says the approval of an appointing authority must be sought before proceeding with the arrest of a public servant. The question is whether the approval will be given at the department level or at the Mantralaya level. It is not clear who will be a competent authority for such cases,” said Waghmare.
He further said government servants would also not like to give approvals, fearing repercussions. “The wrong implication of anybody should be applicable to all kinds of crimes, and not only to Atrocities Act cases,” said Waghmare.
Pankaj Thanvar, the brother of 26-year-old Sandeep Thanvar, who was killed along with two others in Ahmednagar in 2013 – a case in which the Atrocities Act was invoked – said that in many cases police authorities do not easily register an FIR in the first place. “Even in my brother’s case, though his body was found in a septic tank, the police were initially filing an accidental death record instead of an FIR. Instead of strengthening the Act by ensuring sensitising the police, such steps will only make it even more difficult for marginalised communities to come forward to file a complaint,” Thanvar said.
Meanwhile, the Maratha Kranti Morcha, which conducted a series of silent protests across the state last year demanding dilution of the provisions of the Atrocities Act, welcomed the Supreme Court order saying harassment of people through the law would now stop. “We have been saying that the law is being misused under political and social pressure. It is a welcome order. It will also stop any interference in the police investigation and allow them to act impartially,” said Nanasaheb Kute, convenor of the Maratha Kranti Morcha.