Cabinet clears Bill to restore the provisions of SC/ST Act

Facing pressure from Dalit leaders within the ruling alliance as well as from the Opposition, the Centre has decided to introduce a Bill to restore the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which the Supreme Court had struck down in a March ruling.

The Amendment Bill seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act:

The first stipulates that for the purposes of the Act, “preliminary inquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.”

The second stipulates that the arrest of a person accused of having committed an offense under the Act would not require any approval.

The third says that the provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act, “notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court.”

On March 20, the Supreme Court issued a slew of guidelines to protect people against arbitrary arrests under the Act, directing that public servants could be arrested only with the written permission of their appointing authority, while in the case of private employees; the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it. A preliminary inquiry should be conducted before the FIR was registered to check if the case fell within the ambit of the Act, and whether it was frivolous or motivated, the court ruled.

The ruling was greeted by a storm of protest from Dalit groups, which said the order diluted the law. However, the court refused to stay its ruling, leading to the demand from Dalit groups that the government introduce an ordinance or an Amendment Bill to restore the provisions.

About SC/ST Act:

The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is popularly known as POA, the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act. The SC/ST Act was enacted on September 9, 1989. The rules for the Act were notified on March 31, 1995.

The SC/ST Act lists 22 offenses relating to various patterns or behaviors inflicting criminal offenses and breaking the self-respect and esteem of the scheduled castes and tribes community. This includes denial of economic, democratic and social rights, discrimination, exploitation, and abuse of the legal process.

According to the SC/ST Act, the protection is provided from social disabilities such as denial of access to certain places and to use customary passage, personal atrocities like forceful drinking or eating of inedible food sexual exploitation, injury etc, and atrocities affecting properties, malicious prosecution, political disabilities and economic exploitation.

For the speedy trial, Section 14 of the SC/ST Act provides for a Court of Session to be a Special Court to try offenses under this Act in each district.

The prime objective of the SC/ST Act is to deliver justice to marginalized through proactive efforts, giving them a life of dignity, self-esteem and a life without fear, violence or suppression from the dominant castes.

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