SC stands by its judgement on SC/ST Act, says the rights of the innocent must be protected too

The Supreme Court of India has stated that its order on March 20, which provided safeguards against the misuse of the stringent SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act, is only meant to protect the innocent and prevent arbitrary arrests of innocents.

Pronouncing verdict in the case of Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan versus the State of Maharashtra & others, the Supreme Court had ruled that additional safeguards must be provided to civil servants before arresting them under the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act. The Court has stated that the approval of an appointing authority or an S.S.P is required before arresting a public servant accused under the act.

The Supreme Court, in its order, has also mentioned that to avoid false implications, a preliminary enquiry by the DSP must be conducted to find out whether the charges are correct.

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The central government had filed a review petition before the apex court for this ruling. According to reports, the Supreme Court, while on an urgent hearing on a plea by the central government for an interim stay on the order, refused to agree to the request.

The bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit stated  “The judgment is not in conflict with the SC/ST Act. It does not dilute the law in any way. We only flagged one issue – can the liberty of an innocent be taken away without application of mind? We only said protect an innocent from being falsely implicated under the Act, which has stringent provisions. People agitating may not have read the judgment. They may have been misled,”

The bench also added that there should be no denial of the relief and compensation to people belonging to the SCs and STs and their rights. But an innocent person’s rights must also be protected.

Going further, the bench added that the March 20 judgement applies only to the complaints registered under the SC/ST Act and if any offences committed under the act also violates laws under the Indian Penal Code, then there is no ban on immediate registration of an FIR.

Justice Goel, who authored the verdict, said that the verdict is a ‘balance’ between the rights of a Dalit and the rights of an innocent person. Addressing to the Attorney General K K Venugopal, Justice Goel added that the preliminary inquiry which is mandated in the Supreme Court verdict before an arrest is not meant to delay the grant of compensation mandated under the SC/ST Act. Justice Goel added that grant of money from the public exchequer should be preceded by verification against false claims and this ‘preliminary enquiry’ serves that purpose.

According to reports, at one point Justice Goel even questioned KK Venugopal that how would the Attorney General function if he is accused falsely by a person under the SC/ST Act.

The bench had agreed to list the case for further hearing after all the parties involved have filed written submissions before the court.

Widespread violence had erupted across several states after Dalit groups called for a Bharat Bandh on April 2nd in protest of the Supreme Court order. The bench termed the protests as ‘ill-informed’ and ‘misled’. The Justices stated that the people agitating might not have read the judgement in detail.

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