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Key Takeaways

  • Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 consists of 6 Chapters and 26 Sections. Chapter IV A and Sections 14A, 15A, and 18A have been added through Amendments.
  • Section 3 is one of the most important sections of the SC ST Act as it lists down several acts which if committed against a member of SC / ST by a Non-SC / ST, amount to an offence.
  • There is a need for the judiciary to play an active role so that the misuse of the provisions of the SC-ST Act could be curbed and innocent Non-SC / ST persons could be saved from harassment.

Introduction

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 [hereinafter referred to as “SC ST Act”] consists of 6 Chapters and 26 Sections. Chapter IV A and Sections 14A, 15A, and 18A have been added through Amendments. This Act has been enacted to remove the disparity of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes who remain vulnerable and are denied their civil rights. In this article, I have discussed the Important Sections of the SC ST Act and also provided some Important Judgments related to this Act.

Punishment for Offence of Atrocities (Section 3)

The offence under this Section can be committed only by a person who is not a member of a Scheduled Caste or Tribe. This is rather a very comprehensive Section, covering a number of atrocities that might be done against the members of Scheduled Castes or Tribes.

Section 3 (1)

Sub Section (1) of this section provides that it is an offense if a Non-SC or ST:

  1. Puts any inedible or obnoxious substance into the mouth of a member of a Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe.
  2. Forces such members to drink or eat such inedible or obnoxious substances.
  3. Dumps excreta, sewage, carcasses, etc., in the premises occupied by such member or in the neighborhood of the premises occupied by him.
  4. Garlands with footwear or forces such members to parade naked/semi-naked.
  5. Forcibly removes clothes from such member, or tonsures his head, removes his mustaches, and paints his face or body in a way that is derogatory to human dignity.
  6. Wrongfully cultivates or occupies or gets transferred any land owned by or in the possession of such member.
  7. Forces such members to do ‘begar’, or forced/bonded labor.
  8. Compels such members to dig graves or carry human/animal carcasses.
  9. Makes such members do manual scavenging.
  10. Performs or promotes dedicating women members of SC or ST to a deity, idol, object of worship, temple, etc.
  11. Forces such members not to vote or to vote for a particular candidate, or not to file a nomination as a candidate.
  12. Forces a Panchayat or Municipality member who belongs to SC or ST from performing his duties.
  13. Threatens to impose or imposes social or economic boycott upon such member.
  14. Commits any offence under this Act against such member for having voted for a particular candidate.
  15. Institutes false, malicious, or vexatious suit or criminal proceedings against such member.
  16. Abuses such member by name caste name in any place within public view.
  17. Gives some false or frivolous information to any public servant and thereby causes such public servant to use his lawful power to the injury or annoyance of such member.
  18. Intentionally insults or intimidates such member with an intent to humiliate him.
  19. Destroys, Damages, or Defiles any object generally known to be sacred to such member.
  20. Promotes or attempts to promote feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill will against such member(s).
  21. Intentionally touches a woman in a sexual manner without her consent, knowing that she belongs to SC / ST, or uses words, acts, or gestures of a sexual nature towards such woman.
  22. Corrupts or fouls the water of a water reservoir, ordinarily used by a member of an SC / ST, to make it less fit for consumption or other uses.
  23. Denies such member a customary right of passage to a place to which such member has a right to use or access.
  24. Forces such a member to leave his house, village, or other place of residence.
  25. Causes physical harm or mental agony to such a member by alleging him of practicing witchcraft.
  26. Obstructs or prevents such member from
  • using a common property of an area, a burial or cremation ground, a river, stream, spring, road, etc.
  • riding bikes, wearing footwear, or new clothes in public places, taking out a wedding procession or mounting a horse during the wedding processions.
  • Taking out a religious, social, or cultural procession.
  • Entering any place of working that is open to the public.
  • Entering any educational institute, hospital, shop, or any other public place.
  • Practicing any profession, occupation, trade, or business that is open to members of the public.

All the acts mentioned above are Offences as per Section 3 (1) of the SC ST Act and are punishable with imprisonment from 6 months up to 5 years and a fine.

Section 3 (2)

Giving False / Fabricated Evidence against an SC / ST

It is an offence under the SC ST Act if a Non-SC or ST gives or fabricates false evidence, intending to cause conviction of a member of SC / ST.

Punishment

If an innocent member of SC or ST is convicted for a capital offence due to such false or fabricated evidence – Imprisonment for life and fine.

If such an innocent member is executed due to such false or fabricated evidence – Death Penalty.

If such an innocent member is convicted for a non-capital offence punishable with 7 or more than 7 years of imprisonment – Imprisonment from 6 months up to 7 years or upwards, and fine.

Mischief by fire or any explosive substance

If such mischief is done to cause damage to a property belonging to a member of SC / ST – Imprisonment from 6 months up to 7 years and a fine.

If such mischief is done to cause destruction of a place of religious worship or human dwelling or a place for the custody of property, used by a member of SC / ST – Imprisonment for life and Fine.

Commits an Offence punishable under IPC

If a Non-SC or ST commits any offence (that is punishable with imprisonment of 10 years or more) against a person, knowing that such person is a member of SC / ST, then such Non-SC or ST shall be punishable with Imprisonment for Life and Fine.

Other Important Sections

Application of certain provisions of IPC (Section 6)

This Section provides that Sections 34& 149 and Chapters III, IV, V, V A, and XXIII of the Indian Penal Code shall apply for the purposes of SC ST Act as they apply for the purposes of IPC.

Forfeiture of property of certain persons (Section 7)

Under this Section, the Special Court may order forfeiture of the property belonging to the person convicted under the SC ST Act, if such property had been used for the commission of the offence for which he has been convicted. Such forfeiture shall be in addition to the punishment provided by the Act.

Even during the trial, the properties of the accused under the SC ST Act can be attached and later on, upon conviction, be forfeited to the Government.

Presumption as to Offences (Section 8)

  • If it is proved that a person rendered any financial assistance to a person accused under the SC ST Act, for an offence under the said Act, then the Court must presume that such person has abetted such offence.This is a rebuttable presumption.
  • If it is proved that the offence under SC ST Act was committed by a group of persons in an sequel to any existing dispute, then the Court must presume that the offence was committed in furtherance of common intention or object.
  • If it is proved that the accused had personal knowledge about the victim or his family, then the Court must presume that the accused was aware of the Caste / Tribal Identity of the victim. This is also a rebuttable presumption.

Special Court and Exclusive Special Court (Section 14)

The State Government must establish Exclusive Special Courts for one or more Districts with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of the High Court for trying cases arising under the SC ST Act. Such establishment can be done by notification in the Official Gazette. But, if the number of cases recorded under the SC ST Act are less,then the State Government can specify a Court of Session to be a Special Court.

Such Special / Exclusive Special Courts can directly take cognizance of offences punishable under the SC ST Act.

This Section puts an obligation upon the State Government to establish a sufficient number of Courts for providing a speedy trial of the accused person under the SC ST Act.

Further, it provides that the trial in the Special Court must be continued from day to day until all the witnesses in attendance have been examined. Adjournment can be given only after recording reasons in writing.

Appeals (Section 14A)

All the appeals from the judgments, sentences, or orders of a Special / Exclusive Special Court lie to the High Court, both on facts and on the law.

An appeal from an order of a Special / Exclusive Special Court, granting or refusing to grant bail, also lies to the High Court.

Further, this Section provides a limitation period of 90 days for preferring an appeal. It also provides a grace period of 30 days if the Appellant is able to show a sufficient cause for not preferring an appeal during the first 90 days.

Section 438, CrPC not to apply to persons committing an offence under the SC / ST Act (Section 18)

Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides provisions relating to Anticipatory Bail. Section 18 of the SC ST Act clarifies that Section 438 of the CrPC will not apply to any case involving the arrest of any person who has been accused of an offence under the SC ST Act.

No enquiry or approval required (Section 18A)

This section provides that no preliminary inquiry shall be required for the registration of an FIR against any person for an offence under the SC ST Act.

Further, it provides that no approval is required for the arrest of any person against whom an accusation of having committed an offence under the SC ST Act has been made.

No Probation for Persons guilty of an offense under the SC ST Act (Section 19)

This Section provides that Section 360 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (which provides provisions for release on probation for good conduct), or the Probation of Offenders Act, 1958 will not apply to any person above the age of 18 years who has been found guilty of having committed an offense under the SC ST Act.

Important Judgments on SC ST Act

Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra [Criminal Appeal No.416 Of 2018]

In this case, the Hon’ble Supreme Court held that there was no absolute bar against the grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the SC ST Act if no prima facie case was made out or where a complaint was found to be prima facie mala fide upon judicial scrutiny.

Furthermore, it held that due to clear abuse of law of arrest in SC ST Act cases, arrest of a public servant could only be done after getting approval from the appointing authority, and of a non-public servant shall be only after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted after recording reasons.

The Court also held that to avoid the false implication of an innocent, a preliminary inquiry may be conducted by the concerned DSP to find out whether the allegationsconstituted a case under the SC ST Act and that the allegations were not frivolous or motivated.

So, in this Judgment, the Hon’ble Supreme Court gave several significant observations that diluted the provisions of the SC ST Act.

Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India [WP(C) 1015 of 2018]

To nullify the effect of the judgment in the Subhash Kashinath case, Parliament passed the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018, and inserted Section 18A in the SC ST Act.

In this case, the constitutional validity of Section 18A was challenged. The Hon’ble Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the said section while noting that it had already recalled the directions issued in the Subhash Kashinath case, through the judgment in Union of India v. State of Maharashtra & Ors. (Review Petition (Crl.) No. 228 of 2018).

On the question of preliminary enquiry before the registration of an FIR, the Court observed that such enquiry would be permissible only as per the law laid down by it in the case of Lalita Kumari v. Government of UP [(2014) 2 SCC 1].Furthermore, it clarified that if the complaint did not make out a prima facie case for the application of the SC ST Act, then the bar created by Sections 18 and 18A, regarding non-applicability of Section 438 CrPC, would not apply.

It also observed that the Court could quash the cases under Section 482 CrPC in exceptional circumstances, to prevent misuse of “provisions on settled parameters”.

Marenna @ Mareppa v. State (Crl. Petition No. 200315 of 2020)

In this case, the Hon’ble Karnataka High Court had held that under the SC ST Act,along with the victim, his parents, and the family members also sustain injuries. So, a right would be conferred upon the parents and family members of the victim to participate in the proceedings initiated under the SC ST Act.

Chaudhary Pravinbhai Revabhai v.State of Gujarat [Criminal Appeal No. 1625 of 2021]

In this case, the Hon’ble Gujarat High Court observed that there were no averments or allegations against the Appellant to attract the provisions of the SC ST Act, so it allowed the prayer of the Appellant and issued directions for grant of Anticipatory Bail. It can be inferred from the judgment in this case that an Anticipatory Bail could be granted if no Prima Facie Offence was made out against the accused under the SC ST Act.

Jawed Khan v. State of Chhattisgarh [CRA No. 604 of 2022]

In this case, the Hon’ble High Court of Chhattisgarh had held that when a case under SC ST Act appeared to be a misuse of law, then the Court had the power to grant anticipatory bail and Section 18 of the SC ST Act did not bar the same.

G.P. Hemakoti Reddy, Ananthapur Dist. v. P.P., Hyd [Criminal Petition No.321 of 2015]

In this case, the Hon’ble Andhra Pradesh High Court had held that caste-based insults over the phone while not being in ‘Public View’,would not constitute an offense under Section 3 of the SC ST Act. To deliver this Judgment, the Court relied upon the judgment in the case of Hitesh Verma v. State of Uttarakhand [Criminal Appeal No. 707 of 2020], where the Hon’ble Supreme Court had held that to be considered an offense under the SC ST Act, the insult or intimidation must be done at “any place within public view”.

Conclusion

Even though almost 75 years have passed since the independence of our country, the plight of the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes still demands the protection of a special enactment like the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act), 1989. But, due to stringent provisions of the said Act, there is a need for the judiciary to play an active role, so that the misuse of the provisions of the SC-ST Act could be curbed and innocent Non-SC / ST persons could be saved from harassment.


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