Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2018

Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act 1989, also called SC ST Act, as can be understood by the name itself, is an an act to prevent atrocities against people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The act also introduces Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts to run trials of such offences that are made against SC, ST people. It is important for IAS Exam aspirants to know the basic and relevant details about the SC ST Act from the perspective of GS Mains-II (Indian Polity.)

In a recent development, the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutional validity of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act of 2018 on February 10, 2020.

This article will provide you with relevant details about the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 (SC/ST Atrocity Law.)

Introduction to SC/ST Amendment Act 2018

The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2018 was passed by the Parliament on 9th August 2018.

The important features of SC/ST Amendment Act 2018 are:

  1. Section 18 A of SC ST Act – It nullifies the conduct of a preliminary enquiry before registration of an FIR, or to seek approval of any authority prior to arrest of an accused.
  2. Person who has been accused of atrocities against SC ST people will be excluded from the provision of anticipatory bail
  3. The SC ST act gives the Investigation Officer (IO) independence to arrest the accused person or people without any approval from any authority

SC ST Act 2018 & Supreme Court Judgement

Background:

A petition was filed against SC ST Amendment Act 2018 demanding to strike down the said act as the petitioners claimed the act was against Article 14, 19 & 21 of the Indian Constitution.

Article 14: Provides for equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.

Article 19: Provides freedom of speech and expression

Article 21: No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to a procedure established by law.

The petitioners demanded that power of arrest which is given to the IO should only be exercised after complying with all the safeguards listed under Sections 41 and 41A of the Cr.P.C such as:

  • Scrutiny
  • Credible information and
  • Just and reasonable procedure

Supreme Court Judgments:

  1. March 2018 – A two-judge bench decided that no automatic arrest can be done by the IO and it also continued the provision of anticipatory bail for the accused.
  2. September 2019 – SC three-judge bench restored the provision of automatic arrest
  3. February 2020 – The following judgments came:
    • Nullified the effect of March 18 judgement and SC upheld the validity of the SC ST Act
    • Pre-arrest bail should be granted only in extraordinary situations where a denial of bail would mean miscarriage of justice
    • Provision of anticipatory bail cannot be accessed by the accused
    • IO can arrest accused without any approval from senior police officials
    • The FIR filed, can be quashed by the court. 

Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 – SC ST Act 2015

The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 brought stringent provisions to SC ST Act 1989. The SC SC Amendment Act 2015 was brought to effect in January 2016. 

Key Features of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 or SC ST Act 2015:

The SC ST Act 2015 or what we can call as PoA act 2015 has brought a few definitions or new features into the act that made clear judgments on what can be an offence under it. The act is taken as a safeguard to people or group of people belonging to Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes.

The act has defined offences of atrocities which can put a person behind bars. These are related to:

  • Physical Atrocity – Tonsuring of head, moustache,
  • Verbal Atrocity – Acts that are derogatory to the dignity of members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
  • Atrocity related to insults – Garlanding with chappals (slippers)
  • Social Atrocity – Denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights ,
  • Dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or to dig graves,
  • Using or permitting manual scavenging,
  • Devadasi – Dedicating a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe women as devadasi,
  • Atrocity related to castes – Abusing in caste name,
  • Atrocities against women – Perpetrating witchcraft atrocities,
  • Social & Economic Atrocity against SC & ST – Imposing social or economic boycott,
  • Atrocity in Politics – Preventing Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates from filing of nomination to contest elections,
  • Hurting a Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes woman by removing her garments,
  • Forcing a member of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe to leave house , village or residence,
  • Atrocities based on religious beliefs – Defiling objects sacred to members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe,
  • Touching or using words, acts or gestures of a sexual nature against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe.

The offences like hurt, grievous hurt, intimidation, kidnapping etc. against a person or persons belonging to SC/ST can attract imprisonment of 10 years or less under Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA Act.) However, only those offences are taken under PoA act, which are already inscribed in Indian Penal Code (IPC) act. 

The other important features of SC ST Act 2015 are:

  • Exclusive Sepcial Courts are established
  • Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors are specified who will run the trial of offences committed under PoA act
  • The Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors are introduced to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases
  • Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts are given power to take direct cognizance of offences and so are they required to complete the trial of the cases within two months (where ever possible) from the date of charge-sheet filing,
  • A chapter named ‘Rights of Victims & Witnesses’ has been added under the PoA Act
  • The term ‘Wilful Negligence’ of public servants at all levels has been defined under the act.
  • Starting from the registration of complaint under PoA Act, and covering aspects of dereliction of duty under this Act are defined under wilful negligence
  • The court has been given freedom to presume the offence if the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family. That means, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.


Aspirants can get answers to a few questions related to the SC ST Act from the table below:

UPSC Preparation Links:

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