Safeguards in Atrocities Act to protect people's 'liberty': SC

Safeguards in Atrocities Act to protect people's 'liberty': SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday said its March 20 ruling on the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act just put safeguards to protect “liberty” of people from “absurd” complaints, and does not permit anybody to commit a crime.

The top court once again refused to stay the verdict, rejecting the Centre's claim that it caused widespread violence and even deaths in the country.

“We are fully for protection for the people from the SC/ST communities. Who has stopped the authorities from acting when there are complaints and offences. We are not saying the guilty should not be booked or punished. We are only saying conduct preliminary enquiry before the arrest,” a bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and U U Lalit said.

Enquiry before arrest

The court said any person who commits a crime must be punished. It said there were special laws like POTA and TADA under which there were no provisions for anticipatory bail. Under the Atrocities Act, there is no provision for anticipatory bail even for an offence carrying a punishment of merely six months jail. “Is it justified? So, we said don't make a ready arrest. If there is something absurd (in a complaint), there should be an enquiry before the arrest,” the bench said.

Attorney General K K Venugopal, arguing for the Centre to review the verdict, contended that the top court had substituted registration of FIR, which is mandatory as per the Lalitha Kumari judgement in case of cognisable offence, with preliminary enquiry.

“You have countermanded statutory provisions. What is the court trying to do when it says officers not following the directions would be liable for contempt. If the officers do not file (FIR), they violate the Lalitha Kumari judgement, and if they do, they again violate (the instant judgement),” the top law officer said.

“The separation of power is part of basic structure of the Constitution. The courts can fill the gaps in legislation but can't lay down the guidelines,” he said.

The bench, however, cited the judgements in the Collegium system for appointment of judges and D K Basu's case on mandatory guidelines for police in all cases of arrest, where directions were issued by the court.

Facts not presented

Venugopal submitted the matter concerned communities who have faced thousands of years of atrocities, suppression and oppression. He cited statistics to show Dalits still faced discrimination in the country. But the court maintained that the judgement was not solely based on statistics. During the hearing, senior advocate Indira Jaising, appearing for the original complainant, a Maharashtra resident, contended that the petitioner in the case should be tried for perjury as he did not present full facts before the court (before it passed the March 20 judgement).

Senior advocate Vijay Hansari contended that the court should not hear her plea as she had imputed motive to the judges in one of her tweets. The court, however, put Jaising's plea for consideration as review petition. It posted the matter for further hearing on May 16.