The Supreme Court recently sought a response from the Centre on a batch of petitions filed against the amendments introduced in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
The petitions, challenging the Centre's amendments to the apex court's decision, were filed by lawyers Prathvi Raj Chauhan and Priya Sharma.
Terming the amendment as “arbitrary” as it reversed the apex court's decision to protect the innocent people from the abuse of the Act, the lawyers asserted that the government proposed the amendment under pressure from alliance partners.
They further added that the amendments were made in an attempt to garner votes from the Dalit community ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
The Centre has been given a time period of six weeks to respond to the court.
The Amendment introduced by the Centre
The Parliament had passed a bill on August 9 reversing the Supreme Court's order on Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill.
The amendment ruled out anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs and allowed an immediate arrest of anyone charged under the Act.
Supreme Court's judgement on the SC/ST Act
The Centre's move had come in response to the Supreme Court's judgment of March 20, wherein the apex court had diluted the provisions of the SC/ST Act which allowed an immediate arrest of a person charged under the Act.
The apex court had ruled out automatic arrest of anyone accused under the Act and stated that a preliminary inquiry was needed before the arrest.
The inquiry was needed to ensure that the allegations levelled were not "frivolous or motivated" before a case is registered.
Citing "instances of abuse" of the Act by "vested interest' for political reasons the apex court had laid down guidelines for arrest under the Act "to avoid false implications".
Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act
The Scheduled Caste and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted on September 9, 1989 by the Parliament to prevent atrocities against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
Under this section, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules was framed in 1995.
The law was formed to punish crime against people belonging to the scheduled Castes and Tribes. Giving special protections and rights to victims, it set up courts for fast completion of cases.
Politics over caste
Following the Supreme Court ruling, the minority community and the opposition launched a scathing attack on the Centre and demanded an immediate action against the ruling.
In the protests that followed after the Supreme Court's judgment, at least seven people were killed and over 100 were injured in various parts of the country.
While a section of the society agreed that the provisions of the Act were misused, several others claimed that the government should take steps to protect the rights of the Dalit community.
On April 2, the Centre filed a review petition in the Supreme Court stating that the “Alleged potential of misuse would not deserve to be considered as a valid, justifiable or permissible ground for reading down stringent provisions of the PoA (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.”
Eventually the Parliament passed the order reversing the Supreme Court's order on the SC/ST Act on August 9.
The move by the centre is seen as an attempt by the ruling party to make its way into the vote bank of the Dalit community.
A similar upturning of the Supreme Court's order had earlier taken place in 1986 when the Rajiv Gandhi government had reversed the apex court's order in the Shah Bano case. Citing that the court's judgment in the case was a intervention into the Muslim Personal Law, the then government had introduced a law striking down the court's rule that allowed compensation to a Muslim woman after divorce.
Gandhi' move to appease Muslim clerics faces criticism from a major section of the community's women and liberal till date.
A decision taken in haste to favour a section of the society and proving detrimental for the other is certainly not going to reap benefits for any political party in the long run.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)