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Supreme Court refers Centre’s plea on SC/ST act to larger bench

The apex court had last year banned automatic arrests and registration of cases under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, triggering protests in many parts of the country against dilution of the law that was designed to protect marginalised communities from abuse and discrimination.

Updated: Sep 13, 2019 23:51 IST

By HT Correspondent, New Delhi

The Supreme Court on Friday referred its March 2018 verdict banning automatic arrests in cases involving crimes against underprivileged classes to a three-judge bench. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

The Supreme Court on Friday referred its March 2018 verdict banning automatic arrests in cases involving crimes against underprivileged classes to a three-judge bench.

The top court’s ruling came on a review petition filed by the Centre last year.

The apex court had last year banned automatic arrests and registration of cases under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, triggering protests in many parts of the country against dilution of the law that was designed to protect marginalised communities from abuse and discrimination.

The March 2018 ruling of the court required approval of the superintendent of police to arrest those accused of an offence under this law. Besides, it required a deputy SP to conduct a preliminary inquiry to find out if prima facie, a case can be made under the law.



The Centre first filed a review petition in the Supreme Court arguing that the change introduced by the top court had “seriously affected their (SCs/STs) morale and confidence”. The two judges who had delivered the judgment that turned controversial said the court ruling had been “wrongly understood”.

“The SC/ST community has full protection of this court,” the two-judge bench comprising Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit had remarked.

When the court didn’t immediately stay its verdict, the government moved Parliament to restore the power of police to carry out immediate arrests in cases of atrocities and denial of anticipatory bail by the way of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018 to neutralize the effects of the judgment.

On 30 January this year, the apex court had refused to stay amendments to the SC/ST Act that restored the no-anticipatory bail provision.

The implementation of the 1989 SC/ST Act has, at best, been patchy. For instance, only 16% of people charged under the 1989 law were convicted in 2016. But the law has been associated with the notion of power and dignity for the marginalised sections, who could file a case against members of the powerful upper caste.

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