The Supreme Court bench which had laid down the stringent safeguards on arrest under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has begun hearing the Centre’s review plea against its previous order. Attorney General K K Venugopal, seeking an early hearing of the plea, mentioned the matter before Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra who directed the matter be listed for hearing before the bench of Justices A K Goel and U U Lalit.
On Monday, the government moved the Supreme Court against the alleged dilution of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The court had previously laid down the stringent safeguards before registering a case under the Act. In its plea, the government told the court that potential misuse was not a valid ground for reading down stringent provisions of the Act and diluting it would deprive SC, ST communities the rights guaranteed under the Constitution.
Approaching the court on the day Dalits protested across the country, the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in its review petition, said: “Alleged potential of misuse would not deserve to be considered as a valid, justifiable or permissible ground for reading down stringent provisions of the PoA (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989… such a principle, if extended to offences created under other provisions of law, would render the criminal law and criminal procedure system toothless and nugatory” especially when Parliament, after evaluating the working of the Act, decided to make it more stringent and included additional offences under it in 2016.
“…if the legislative mandate by Parliament is for strict implementation for elimination of a particular menace, then it would not be permissible to dilute the implementation of any such social welfare legislation by resorting to any exercise described as balancing and given in the form of laying down provisions. Such an exercise would not be in conformity with the settled demarcation of jurisdiction between the legislative functioning of the Parliament and the discharge of judicial functions by rendering interpretation by courts,” the petition stated.
The apex court agreed to hear the review petition after Attorney General K K Venugopal referred to large-scale violence and loss of lives and property during yesterday’s Bharat Bandh.
Responding to a call for Bharat Bandh by Dalit organisations, thousands of activists protested against the court order on Monday. The protests turned violent in a few states, particularly in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan which were among the worst affected. At least nine people were killed and several injured during the protests.