History and evolution of SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

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In past, there were several unfortunate incidents which demonstrate the crime done against the members of SC/ST communities. In the year of 1958,  in Kizhavenmani, Tamil Nadu, a brutal incident took place which shocked the entire nation. In that incident, 44 people of labour class from SC community were burnt alive in a confined building because they were demanding for a little rise in their wages. But all accused were acquitted by the High court.

In 1984, in Karamchedu, Andhra Pradesh five people from Schedule caste were massacred. The trial court convicted many of the accused but the High court acquitted all of the accused. Further, when the matter reached the Supreme Court, the court upheld the judgment of the trial court and quoted that “the case is a clear example that acquittals do not mean false cases”.[1]

After all these types of heinous incidents, the Central Government enacted the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 after the reports were submitted by the National Human Right Commission in 1989. The Act was passed in 1989 to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the member of the Scheduled Caste and the Scheduled tribes named Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled extent and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 to protect the rights and equalities of the members of SC/ST community.

Effect of SCs & STs Act

In the year 2010, on the 20th anniversary of the Act, the National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs Act published a report regarding the review of the implementation of this Act.

In that report, the results were very shocking because there were no declination in crime against the SCs and STs between the year 1995 to 2007.

Crime registered under SC/ST (PoA) ActTotal Crimes% of Total Crimes
1,21,464 (SCs)3,71,9421/3rd
14,263 (STs)69,4821/5th
National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs Act report

Annual average of Crime against SCs & STs – 33,956 crimes

Daily average of Crime against SCs & STs – 93 crimes

10 States with 69% of India’s SC/ST population account for over 90% of cognizable offences againts SCs/STs during 1995-2007 –

StatesTotal crimes against SCs/STsRank as per % share
Uttar Pradesh95,3191
Madhya Pradesh81,9412
Andhra Pradesh39,2864
Tamil Nadu20,0637
National Coalition for Strengthening SCs & STs Act report

Atrocities and Indian Constitution

From the very beginning of Indian history, the members of SC and ST are treated inadequately. When the Constitution of India was in making, at that time some Articles and clauses were added to deal with the matter of the Dalits.

Article 17 – The provision of this Article deals with the matter of untouchability. Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law. In the year 1955, the Untouchability Offences Act was enacted and was further renamed as Protection of Civil Right Act in 1976. The Act provides provisions for imposing penalties for preventing a person from taking water from a well or tank, refusal to sell the goods by the shopkeepers to the members of SC and ST, prohibiting from entering a place of worship and any other matter on the ground of untouchability, the Act made provision for imprisonment and fine.

Article 46 – This Article deals with the promotion of educational and economical interest for the SCs, STs and other weaker section of people and shall protect them from social foul play and all forms of exploitation. Article 46 is given in Part IV under DPSP that means the government has the authority to make any law under this provision and for its execution. The State can separately categorize the SCs and STs for adequate representation in service as Article 46 specification[2] provides that it would not necessarily violate the provisions of Article 14 and Article 16.

Article 338 & 338A – These two Articles of the Indian Constitution provide two different commissions for SCs and STs. National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes are two common commissions which monitor, investigate and inquire all matters relating to the Constitution, complaints concerning the deprivation and other legal safeguards and also evaluate their working for SCs and STs respectively.

Salient features of SC-ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act

  • The act done against SCs or STs Members by non-SCs and STs Members to be treated as an offence.
  • A Court of Session is deemed to be a special court to provide speedy trails for offence and Special Public Prosecutor will also appointed to conduct the case in the court.
  • A non-SC or ST public servant who neglects his duties relating to SCs or STs shall be punished with imprisonment for a term of six months to one year.
  • This Act provides compensation, relief and rehabilitation for victims of atrocities or to their legal heirs.
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  • The investigation of the offence under this Act cannot be investigated by an officer of rank below the Deputy Superintendent of Police.

SC ST Act and Article 21

If the allegation is proved to be right, the proceedings can result in arrest or prosecution of the person and will have serious consequences on his right to liberty even on a false complaint which may not be intended by law meant for protection of a bona fide victim. The question is whether this will be just and fair procedure under Article 21 of the Constitution of India or there can be procedural safeguards so that provisions of Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 are not abused for extraneous considerations.[3]The provision of arrest under this Act violates the fundamental right of people under Article 21 Right to life and liberty by the rejection of anticipatory bail under section 438 of Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

The Court has laid down appropriate guidelines, there will be no protection available against arbitrary arrests or false implications in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution. The intervener submitted that preliminary enquiry must be held before arresting concerning the following factors:

  1. Date and time of the incident and provocation.
  2. Preexisting dispute between the parties or rivalry.
  3. Gravity of the issue involved.
  4. Nature of allegations by both the parties.
  5. Necessary documents and evidence by the victim and accused to substantiate their case to be placed before committee.
  6. The proceedings may be recorded to avoid allegations of bias and non-transparency.

Recent Advancements

In the case of Dr Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State Of Maharashtra, 2018, the apex court ruled out some guidelines with regard to arrest under SC/ST Act. It has been said that –

“Conduct a preliminary inquiry prior to the registration of a First Information Report. Law enforcement authorities or investigation officer must receive further approval prior to effectuating an arrest. Grant anticipatory bail to any accused, notwithstanding any judgment or order or direction of any Court.”

The protections from the Subhash Kashinath Mahajan verdict were proposed to keep individuals from manhandling the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. They were responses to the purportedly rising number of bogus allegations being recorded utilizing the particular Act. The shields expected to guarantee that individuals blamed under the Prevention for Atrocities Act are not assumed liable and denied fair treatment of law.

Following the judgment, Parliament moved to fix it as Dalit and Adivasi groups composed huge meetings and protests that sadly brought about a few passings. The State pushed through the 2018 Amendment as the clamour was extreme to such an extent that Parliament didn’t wait for the Supreme Court to hear a review petition challenging the judgment. On 7th of September 2018, a Supreme Court Bench involving Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan gave a notification to the Center to record their reaction to this appeal.

On 29 October 2018, the Central Government documented a testimony expressing that the Parliament is capable to achieve the correction to the Act. The Affidavit of the government further records that high rates of vindications in cases documented under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act can’t be the reason for the presumption that a larger part of the cases recorded under it are bogus.

In 2020, the Court officially maintained the constitutionality of the 2018 Amendment. The court saw that – the struggle of SC/ST individuals for equity is as yet not finished as they actually face untouchability, misuse and are socially outcast. Taking a genuine perspective on the manual scavenging situation and deaths of SC/ST individuals occupied with such work, the top court had said no place on the planet individuals are sent to “gas chambers to die”. The court went further observing “It is against the spirit of the Constitution. Can an order be passed against the statute and the Constitution just because there is an abuse of the law? Can you doubt any person on the basis of caste? Even a general category person can file a false FIR.”

Eventually, the Hon’ble Supreme Court had said that there is no outright bar against the award of anticipatory bail in cases under the Act, if no by all appearances case is made out or where the complaint is discovered to be at first sight malafide.

[1]ChagantiSatyanarayan&Ors vs. State of Andhra Pradesh, (1986) AIR 2130, (1986) SCR (2) 1128

[2] A. B. S. K. Singh vs. Union of India, AIR 1981 SC 298.

[3]Dr. SubhashKashinath Mahajan vs The State Of Maharashtra, AIR 2018 SC 1498

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