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Caste

High Acquittal in SC/ST Atrocities Cases Due to Failure of Police, Prosecution: Centre to SC

“It is misconceived and misleading to suggest that acquittal singularly takes place owing to either false cases or misuse of PoA provisions”.

New Delhi: Lack of proper probe and tardy prosecution, and not falsehood of cases, are largely to blame for the excessive acquittals under the Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, a Central government affidavit informed the Supreme Court.

The high rate of acquittal, the government said, was “attributed to several factors like delay in lodging the FIR, witnesses and complainants becoming hostile, absence of proper scrutiny of the cases by the prosecution before filing the chargesheet in court, lack of proper prosecution of the case, long pendency of the trial, lack of corroborative evidence, etc., etc.”

According to a report in The Hindu, explaining the rationale behind the recent amendment in the Act, the government said that authorities had failed to provide justice to a marginalised section of society – one which has for centuries suffered social stigma, poverty and humiliation.

The 2018 amendment voided the March 20 apex court judgment allowing anticipatory bail to those booked for committing atrocities against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The original Act had banned anticipatory bail.

Also read: The Dark Realities of the SC/ST Atrocities Act: An Ethnographic Reading

The Supreme Court’s judgment had triggered a widespread backlash with many alleging attempts to dilute an essential law. Writing for The WireFaizan Mustafa has argued that when cases are filed, “the most likely outcome is acquittal due to caste biases at every stage of investigation and trial.”

“The decision will surely have a chilling effect on reporting of already under-reported crimes against Dalits. The court has not only gone against its own earlier judgments but also re-written Section 18 of PoA which excluded anticipatory bail, and Section 154 of Code of Criminal Procedure which mandates that FIR is to registered in every case of cognizable offence.”

Several protests against the verdict saw a loss of life and damage to property, following which Centre filed a review petition in the apex court and amended the 1989 Act back to its original form. Several petitions were filed challenging the 2018 amendments arguing that parliament had “arbitrarily” decided to restore provisions struck down by the Supreme Court, however, the court refused to stay their implementation.

Also read: SC/ST Act: A Hostile Environment and an ‘Atrocious’ Interpretation

Government’s affidavit – filed in response to these petitions – stated that despite laws meant to protect SC/ST communities, there had not been a fall in the atrocities committed against them. “It is misconceived and misleading to suggest that acquittal singularly takes place owing to either false cases or misuse of PoA provisions”.

The 1989 Act, the government argued, “is the least which the country owes to this section of the society who have been denied several civil rights since generations and have been subjected to indignities, humiliations and harassment.”