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Hariram Bhambhi Vs Satyanarayan: Notice Under Section 15A(3) Of The Scheduled Caste And Scheduled Tribe (Prevention Of Atrocities) Act, 1989 Is Mandatory And Not Directory

Prahalad B ,
  06 November 2021       Share Bookmark

Court :
Supreme Court
Brief :

Citation :
Criminal Appeal No. 1278 of 2021

Date of Judgement:

29 October 2021

Coram:
Justice D Y Chandrachud
Justice B V Nagarathna

Parties:
Appellant – Hariram Bhambhi
Respondent – Satyanarayan

Subject

Section 15A provides that a reasonable and timely notice must be issued to the victim or their dependents. If undue delay is caused in the issuance of notice, the victim, or, their dependents, would remain uninformed of the progress made in the case.

Legal Provisions

  • Section 15A (3) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989– A victim or his dependent shall have the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any Court proceeding including any bail proceeding and the Special Public Prosecutor or the State Government shall inform the victim about any proceedings under this Act.
  • Section 15A (5) of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 – A victim or his dependent shall be entitled to be heard at any proceeding under this Act in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction, or sentence of an accused or any connected proceedings or arguments and file written submission on conviction, acquittal or sentencing.

Overview

  • The appellant in the complaint lodged at the police station stated his brother Ram Niwas had gone away to meet his brother-in-law, Kishan Lal. The next day Ram Niwas’s spouse informed that her husband had been taken away by Kishan Lal. Subsequently, the villagers informed that the dead body of Ram Niwas was thrown away from a car. The Appellant lodged a complaint in the police station and the investigation on the matter commenced. Based on the investigation, the first respondent was arrested. As the deceased belonged to a Scheduled Caste, offences under the SC/ST Act were added.
  • The Sessions Court rejected the bail application of the respondent. Aggrieved by this order, an appeal was preferred which was later withdrawn. Thereafter, a bail application was instituted before the Special Judge, which was again rejected citing reasons that other important witnesses needed to be examined. The second bail application was also rejected. The respondent then preferred an appeal before the High Court against the rejection of the bail rejection. The notice was not issued to the appellant as prescribed under Section 15A of the Act.
  • The High Court allowed the appeal after noting that the spouse of the deceased in her statement stated that her brother, who was also the co-accused, committed murder as an insurance policy was taken in name of the deceased. Bail was granted.
  • The appellant moved the High Court for cancellation of the bail granted on the ground that no notice was issued to the appellant regarding the bail proceedings as prescribed under Section 15A (3) of the Act. This contention was rejected by the High Court on the ground that the appellant was heard during the application for cancellation of bail. Aggrieved by this order, the present appeal was preferred.
  • The appellant argued that there was a gross violation to Section 15A which mandated issuing notice to the victims or his dependents, who were entitled to be heard in such proceedings. It was further contended that the failure to issue notice cannot be brushed away by the fact that they were heard in the bail cancellation application.
  • It was also submitted that the High Court merely recorded the statements of deceased’s spouse. The investigation further revealed a prima facie case wherein the CCTV footage captured the respondent’s involvement in the death of the deceased.
  • The respondent contended that the main allegation from the spouse of the deceased were against Kishan Lal who had murdered for claiming the insurance policy. It has also been submitted that the respondent, after the granting of bail by the High Court, had been in his best behaviour.

Issue

  • Whether notice under Section 15A of the Act is compulsory or discretionary?
  • Whether the High Court’s reasoning that the appellant was heard in the bail cancellation proceedings negates the need of issuing notice under the section?

Judgement Analysis

  • This court observing the relevant provisions held that sub-sections 3 and 5 of Section 15 must be read harmoniously. Notice should be issued to facilitate a fair proceeding where the victims are also part of the proceedings.
  • This court referring to Ajeet Chaudhary V. State of UP (2021), held that issuing of notice is mandatory in nature. There is a clear violation of Section 15A. The court reiterated the legislative objective of such provisions to make the victim the part of the proceedings.
  • It was also held that if such notices are not issued or issued in a delayed manner, the victim will be aware of such proceedings will affect the right of the victims by delaying the whole proceedings.
  • The court also held that the High Court did not apply its mind to arrive at a reasonable explanation. The High Court only recorded the statements of the spouse and that of the Public Prosecutor for granting bail.
  • This appeal was allowed, and the bail granted was set aside.

Conclusion

Investigations are mostly the domain of the police and the victims as such are not privy to it. They will become an audience in such situations. People from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes have faced immense oppression and are still victims of such inhuman activities. The court also lamented the existing conditions of legal proceedings in such cases. Even if such person lodges a complaint overcoming other societal pressures, it is met with the lacklustre by the police. Even if such procedure is successfully initiated, they are looked down upon and are isolated from the society by the oppressors. The aim of this section is to make such victims from marginalised communities a part of the proceedings.

Click here to download the original copy of the judgement

Questions:

  1. What does economic boycott in reference to the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act, 1989?
  2. Which section under the SC/ST Act provides that a victim or his dependent shall be entitled to be heard at any proceeding under this Act in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction, or sentence of an accused or any connected proceedings or arguments and file written submission on conviction, acquittal or sentencing?
 
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