The Supreme Court on Friday decided to send the Centre’s plea seeking review of its March 2018 judgment that forbid arrest without prior sanction for offences under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to a three-judge bench.
“Considering the importance of the matter, we feel that these matters should be heard by a three-judge bench,” a bench of Justices Arun Mishra and U U Lalit ruled, and added that the matter be listed next week.
Taking serious note of instances of abuse of the Act by “vested interests” for political and personal reasons, the court had on March 20, 2018, laid down stringent safeguards including provision for anticipatory bail and vetting of complaint to determine if a case was made out before registration of FIR under the Act.
“To avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated,” a bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit had ruled.
The court said that if the accused person is a public servant, arrest can be made only with the permission of the appointing authority, and where the accused is not a public servant, prior permission of the Senior Superintendent of Police of the district was necessary for arrest. The reasons for granting permission for arrest should be recorded in writing and served upon the accused and the concerned court.
The order came on a petition by Subhash Kashinath Mahajan, who was Director of Technical Education, Maharashtra, against a Bombay High Court order. The HC had rejected his plea challenging an FIR against him for denying sanction to prosecute an official of the department who had made adverse remarks in the ACR of an employee.
The judgment created a political storm, forcing the government to approach the court once again seeking review.
Seeking review, the Centre said that potential for misuse was not a valid ground for reading down stringent provisions of the Act and said diluting the Act would deprive members of SC and ST community from rights guaranteed under the Constitution. It added that the judgment would have “wide ramifications” and the additional procedural safeguards introduced by it “would result in impeding the strict interpretation” of the Act “leading to inevitably diluting” its efficacy.
Hearing it on April 3, 2018, the bench of Justices Goel and Lalit refused to grant any interim stay. The court said it had not diluted the Act but only attempted to protect the innocent.