“Can’t treat all of them as a liar”: SC while partially setting aside the 2018 SC/ST Act verdict [Full report]

Supreme Court: Holding that the Court should not have encroached upon the field reserved for the legislature, the 3-judge bench has partially set aside the 2-judge verdict in Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 243, decided on 20.03.2018. The 3-jduge bench of Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BR Gavai, JJ has held that some portions of the said verdict were against the concept of protective discrimination in favour of down­trodden classes under Article 15(4) of the Constitution and also impermissible within the parameters laid down by this Court for exercise of powers under Article 142 of Constitution of India.

The guidelines laid down in the March, 2018 verdict were:

(i) Proceedings in the present case are clear abuse of process of court and are quashed.

(ii) there is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.

(iii) arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.

(iv) 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.

(v) any violation of the direction of the Court will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.

Challenging the said verdict, the Union of India argued that Section 18 of the Act of 1989 has been enacted to take care of an inherent deterrence and to instil a sense of protection amongst member of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It submitted,

“any dilution of the same would shake the very objective of the mechanism to prevent the offences of atrocities. The directions issued would cause a miscarriage of justice even in deserving cases.  With a view to object apprehended misuse of the law, no such direction can be issued.”

Accepting the contention, the Court held that the guidelines in (iii) and (iv) appear to have been issued in view of the provisions contained in Section 18 of the Act of 1989; whereas adequate safeguards have been provided by a purposive interpretation by this Court in the case of State of M.P. v. R.K. Balothia, (1995) 3 SCC 221.

“The consistent view of this Court that if prima facie case has not been made out attracting the provisions of SC/ST Act of 1989, in that case, the bar created under section 18 on the grant of anticipatory bail is not attracted. Thus, misuse of the provisions of the Act is intended to be taken care of by the decision above.”

It further said that directions (iii) and (iv) issued may delay the investigation of cases. As per the amendment made in the Rules in the year 2016, a charge sheet has to be filed to enable timely commencement of the prosecution. The directions issued are likely to delay the timely scheme framed under the Act/Rules.

Considering the plight of the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Court said that the SCs/STs are still making the struggle for equality and for exercising civil rights in various areas of the country. The members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are still discriminated against in various parts of the country. It said,

“if we cannot provide them protective discrimination beneficial to them, we cannot place them at all at a disadvantageous position that may be causing injury to them by widening inequality and against the very spirit of our Constitution. It would be against the basic human dignity to treat all of them as a liar or as a crook person and cannot look at every complaint by such complainant with a doubt.”

The Court also noticed that there is no presumption that the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes may misuse the provisions of law as a class and it is not resorted to by the members of the upper Castes or the members of the elite class. It said that the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes due to backwardness hardly muster the courage to lodge even a first information report, much less, a false one. In case it is found to be false/unsubstantiated, it may be due to the faulty investigation or for other various reasons including human failings irrespective of caste factor.

“There may be certain cases which may be false that can be a ground for interference by the Court, but the law cannot be changed due to such misuse. In such a situation, it can be taken care in proceeding under section 482 of the Cr.PC.”

The Court, hence, held,

“we are of the considered opinion that direction Nos.(iii) and (iv) issued by this Court deserve to be and are hereby recalled and consequently we hold that direction No. (v), also vanishes.”

[Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1279, decided on 01.10.2019]

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