To curb misuse of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, the Supreme Court ruled out automatic registration of first information reports and arrests in complaints under the Act and according to the criminal law in India.
Stressing that the law should not result in hatred towards a caste, a bench of justices held that there was a need for safeguards against the registration of FIRs and arrests under the Act in view of instances of misuse, as observed in the last three decades, and to protect the liberty of others.
“The Act cannot be converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by any unscrupulous person or by the police for extraneous reasons against other citizens,” the bench said. The court also made it mandatory for the police to conduct a preliminary investigation to decide whether an FIR deserves to be registered under the parameters of the Atrocities Act.
“We are of the view that cases under the Atrocities Act also fall in exceptional category where preliminary inquiry must be held,” the court ruled, adding that even if an FIR is lodged, the accused will not be arrested automatically. “There is need to safeguard innocent citizens against false implication and unnecessary arrest,” the bench said.
For a public servant, the court said, permission of the appointing authority would be a must to make an arrest, whereas, for others, written permission of the Senior Superintendent of Police or DSP would be necessary. The court also interpreted Section 18 of the Act and ruled there cannot be an absolute bar on granting anticipatory bail in such cases.
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