The High Court has held that to invoke the provisions under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, along with the offence under IPC (against anyone), the offence must have been committed on the ground that such a person is a member of the SC/ST.
Just the fact that the victim or the deceased belonged to SC/ST would not be enough to invoke the provisions of section 3 (2) (v) of the SC and ST (POA) Act, the court said.
A division bench, comprising Justice B Veerappa and Justice K Natarajan, made this observation while passing the order in criminal appeals.
The petitioners in the appeals were convicted and sentenced in a case of murder for life imprisonment for the offences under IPC and also under section 3 (2) (v) of the SC and ST (POA) Act.
While the court converted the order sentencing the main accused to life imprisonment for murder into culpable homicide not amounting to murder, it set aside the order sentencing the accused and co-accused to life imprisonment by invoking the provision of SC and ST (POA) Act.
The court said that there was no whisper about assaulting by the accused persons knowing that the victim or the deceased is a member of SC/ST, in the entire evidence of the prosecution witnesses and the material documents.
There is no evidence to show that the offence committed only on the ground that the victim or the deceased was a member of the SC/ST.
“In the absence of the same, and in peculiar circumstances, the impugned judgment and order of conviction passed by the trial Court in so far as convicting accused Nos. 1 to 5 under Section 3 (2) (v) of SC & ST (POA) Act cannot be sustained and the same is liable to be set aside,” the court said.
The court also observed that it is high time the investigating agencies ensure that there is no violation of Fundamental Rights while invoking section 149 of IPC along with the other provisions of IPC. Section 149 says that every member of the unlawful assembly is guilty of the offence committed in the prosecution of common objects.
The court said the investigating agency shall confirm after investigation as to whether such persons really committed an offence along with the other co-accused. Moreover, in the instant case, the trial court has acquitted all the accused under section 120 (b), for conspiracy, it said.