NEW DELHI : In a huge setback to groups challenging added protection for the dalits and tribals, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the amendments to SC/ST(Prevention of Atrocities) Act effected in 2018, were constitutionally valid.
The apex court ruled out any provision for anticipatory bail to persons accused of crimes against the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. No preliminary inquiry would be necessary to register a criminal case under SC/ST Act, the verdict read. The provisions for anticipatory bail are to be exercised only sparingly and in ‘exceptional cases’ where no prima facie case has been made out, the court observed.
In 2018 shortly after the Centre introduced amendments seeking to restore provisions meant for added protection to SC/ST, the move was pulled up in the Supreme Court. The so-called upper-caste organisations alleged that the SC/ST Act was being misused. Their lawyers contended that the new amendments were violative of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution. Birth in an upper caste was being used as grounds for presumption of guilt in cases filed under SC/ST, they argued.
In its hearing in March of 2018, a two-judge Bench had ruled that there should not be any ‘automatic arrest of people accused of crimes under the SC/ST Act”. The verdict sparked angry protests all over the country with angry dalit groups insisting that the ruling would dilute protection for them against atrocities from the upper castes.
The Centre then submitted a review petition in SC.