On 1st October 2019, the Supreme Court of India (SCI) reversed its earlier order dated March 20, 2018 on diluting the provisions of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Hereafter in short “The PoA Act, 1989”), registered under Criminal Appeal No.416 of 2018 and reported as Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State of Maharashtra.
The rationale behind the dilution of The PoA Act, 1989, by the previous judgment was on the account of infringement of the Article 21 (Right to Life and Personal Liberty) by the SCs and STs on the non-SCs and STs, delivered by the bench comprising of justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit. In that judgment, the court had held that the rights of the non-SCs and STs cannot be taken arbitrarily without the due process of law. But on October 1st, the court reversed its own judgment by looking into the rationale behind the provisions of The PoA Act, 1989 and the contemporary situation of the SCs and STs across India.
The reason to reverse its own judgment comes after the Union of India filed an instant petition to review its own order on the dilution of The PoA Act, 1989, as a stringent provision to curb atrocities. Attorney General (AG) represented by Union of India, pointed out in the court that the SC and ST communities still face stigma and discrimination even in the 21st century. To this matter, the AG had submitted in the court, the data of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), Ministry of Home Affairs for the year 2016, highlighting the number of cases registered under The PoA Act, 1989 as more than 47, 000. To this, the bench comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, M R Shah and B R Gavai seriously observed that the case is an alarming one and cannot be due to outcome of the misuse of the provisions of the Act.
Further, the AG has submitted several instances of decisions of the court where it submitted that “the exercise of powers under Article 142 of Constitution of India could not have been exercised against the spirit of statutory provisions and to nullify them and field reserved for the legislature as there was no vacuum“. For this, the AG has submitted 12 cases of the court as mentioned below:
Upon hearing the number of arguments of the Union of India, the court reserved its earlier order by setting aside 3 out of 5 of the directions of the judgment while referring to the earlier judgment of 1994 in the paragraph 19, referred as Kartar Singh vs State of Punjab, (1994) 3 SCC 569 as one of the main cases and observed as follows,
“That the denial of the right of anticipatory bail under section 438 would not amount to a violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Thus, the provision of section 18 cannot be said to be violative of Article 21. Article 17 of the Constitution abolishes untouchability”. (Page: 15)
The 3 out of 5 directions of March 20, 2018 judgment are mentioned as below,
“(iii) In view of acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Atrocities Act, the 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 direction (iii) and (iv) will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.
The above directions are prospective.” (Page: 50)
In paragraph 51, the court termed the incidents of false nature as due to human failings, not due to the caste factor. Further going into depth the court observed that,
“the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have suffered for long, hence, 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”. (Page: 40)
Finally, the court in its 51 pages judgment, emphasised the need for an egalitarian society by disposing of the case as follows,
“The creation of a casteless society is the ultimate aim. We conclude with a pious hope that a day would come, as expected by the framers of the Constitution, when we do not require any such legislation like Act of 1989, and there is no need to provide for any reservation to SCs/STs/OBCs, and only one class of human exist equal in all respects and no caste system or class of SCs/STs or OBCs exist, all citizens are emancipated and become equal as per Constitutional goal.” (Page: 50)