SC/ST Act amendment may be a political game changer

The recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament stood out for its decision to safeguard the interests of social and financially weaker sections of people. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) under Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought a new legislation to overturn a Supreme Court order concerning certain provisions about arrests under the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) law.

Arguments against the amendments by the petitioners:

It has been alleged that the amendment has been brought in with an eye on the 2019 polls. They also argued that there can be no presumption of guilt only because the person at the receiving end was from an upper caste.

Besides, the petitioners claimed that the number of cases being filed under the Act had shot up alarmingly in recent years to back their claim that the law was being misused.

On March 20, the Supreme Court issued a slew of guidelines to protect people against arbitrary arrests under the Act, directing that public servants could be arrested only with the written permission of their appointing authority, while in the case of private employees, the Senior Superintendent of Police concerned should allow it.

A preliminary inquiry should be conducted before the FIR was registered to check if the case fell within the ambit of the Act, and whether it was frivolous or motivated, the court ruled.

The ruling was greeted by a storm of protest from Dalit groups, which said the order diluted the law. However, the court refused to stay its ruling, leading to the demand from Dalit groups that the government introduce an ordinance or an Amendment Bill to restore the provisions.

Following this, the government introduced a Bill to restore the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

The Amendment Bill seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act:

The first stipulates that for the purposes of the Act, “preliminary inquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.”

The second stipulates that the arrest of a person accused of having committed an offense under the Act would not require any approval.

The third says that the provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act, “notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court.”

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