SC recalls majority of directions issued regarding arrests under SC/ST Act

These guidelines issued by the Supreme Court in the matter of Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra and Anr. on 20th March 2018:

(ii) There is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide. We approve the view taken and approach of the Gujarat High Court in Pankaj D Suthar (supra) and N.T. Desai (supra) and clarify the judgments of this Court in Balothia (supra) and Manju Devi (supra);

(iii) In view of acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Atrocities Act, arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non­public servant after approval by the S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.

(iv) To avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.

(v) Any violation of direction (iii) and (iv) will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.

However, in the review petition titled as Union of India v. State Of Maharashtra And Ors., on 1st October 2019, the Hon’ble Supreme Court, recalled the directions (iii), (iv) and (v).

The Hon’ble Supreme Court observed that:

As to prevailing conditions in various areas of the country, we are compelled to observe that SCs/STs are still making the struggle for equality and for exercising civil rights in various areas of the country. The members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are still discriminated against in various parts of the country. In spite of reservation, the fruits of development have not reached to them, by and large, they remain unequal and vulnerable section of the society. The classes of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been suffering ignominy and abuse, and they have been outcast socially for the centuries. The efforts for their upliftment should have been percolated down to eradicate their sufferings. (Para 41)

Though, Article 17 of the Constitution prohibits untouchability, whether untouchability has vanished? We have to find the answer to all these pertinent questions in the present prevailing social scenario in different parts of the country. The clear answer is that untouchability though intended to be abolished, has not vanished in the last 70 years. We are still experimenting with ‘tryst with destiny.’ The plight of untouchables is that they are still denied various civil rights; the condition is worse in the villages, remote areas where fruits of development have not percolated down. They cannot enjoy equal civil rights. So far, we have not been able to provide the modern methods of scavenging to Harijans due to lack of resources and proper planning and apathy. Whether he can shake hand with a person of higher class on equal footing? Whether we have been able to reach that level of psyche and human dignity and able to remove discrimination based upon caste? Whether false guise of cleanliness can rescue the situation, how such condition prevails and have not vanished, are we not responsible? The answer can only be found by soul searching. However, one thing is sure that we have not been able to eradicate untouchability in a real sense as envisaged and we have not been able to provide down­trodden class the fundamental civil rights and amenities, frugal comforts of life which make life worth living. More so, for Tribals who are at some places still kept in isolation as we have not been able to provide them even basic amenities, education and frugal comforts of life in spite of spending a considerable amount for the protection, how long this would continue. Whether they have to remain in the status quo and to entertain civilized society? Whether under the guise of protection of the culture, they are deprived of fruits of development, and they face a violation of traditional rights? (Para 42)

Under Article 21, the right to life includes the right to live with dignity. Basic human dignity implies that all the persons are treated as equal human in all respects and not treated as an untouchable, downtrodden, and object for exploitation. It also implies that they are not meant to be born for serving the elite class based upon the caste. The caste discrimination had been deep­rooted, so the consistent effort is on to remove it, but still, we have to achieve the real goal. No doubt we have succeeded partially due to individual and collective efforts. (Para 43)

There is right to live with dignity and also right to die with dignity. For violation of human rights under Article 21 grant of compensation is one of the concomitants which has found statutory expression in the provisions of compensation, to be paid in case an offence is committed under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. A good reputation is an element of personal security and is protected by the Constitution equally with the right to the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property. (Para 45)

They do labour, bonded or forced, in agricultural fields, which is not abrogated in spite of efforts. In certain areas, women are not treated with dignity and honour and are sexually abused in various forms. We see sewer workers dying in due to poisonous gases in chambers. They are like death traps. We have not been able to provide the masks and oxygen cylinders for entering in sewer chambers, we cannot leave them to die like this and avoid tortious liability concerned with officials/machinery, and they are still discriminated within the society in the matter of enjoying their civil rights and cannot live with human dignity. (Para 46)

The Constitution of India provides equality before the law under the provisions contained in Article 14. Article 15(4) of the Constitution carves out an exception for making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or SCs. and STs. Further protection is conferred under Article 15(5) concerning their admission to educational institutions, including private educational institutions, whether aided or unaided by the State, other than the minority educational institutions. Historically disadvantageous groups must be given special protection and help so that they can be uplifted from their poverty and low social status. The legislature has to attempt such incumbents be protected under Article 15(4), to deal with them with more rigorous provisions as compared to provisions of general law available to the others would create inequality which is not permissible/envisaged constitutionally. It would be an action to negate mandatory constitutional provisions not supported by the constitutional scheme; rather, it would be against the mandated constitutional protection. It is not open to the legislature to put members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in a disadvantageous position vis­-a-vis others and in particular to so­ called upper castes/general category. Thus, they cannot be discriminated against more so when we have a peep into the background perspective. What legislature cannot do legitimately, cannot be done by the interpretative process by the courts. (Para 47)

There is no presumption that the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes may misuse the provisions of law as a class and it is not resorted to by the members of the upper Castes or the members of the elite class. For lodging a false report, it cannot be said that the caste of a person is the cause. It is due to the human failing and not due to the caste factor. Caste is not attributable to such an act. On the other hand, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes due to backwardness hardly muster the courage to lodge even a first information report, much less, a false one. In case it is found to be false/unsubstantiated, it may be due to the faulty investigation or for other various reasons including human failings irrespective of caste factor. There may be certain cases which may be false that can be a ground for interference by the Court, but the law cannot be changed due to such misuse. In such a situation, it can be taken care in proceeding under section 482 of the Cr.PC. (Para 49)

As a matter of fact, members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have suffered for long, hence, if we cannot provide them protective discrimination beneficial to them, we cannot place them at all at a disadvantageous position that may be causing injury to them by widening inequality and against the very spirit of our Constitution. It would be against the basic human dignity to treat all of them as a liar or as a crook person and cannot look at every complaint by such complainant with a doubt. Eyewitnesses do not come up to speak in their favour. They hardly muster the courage to speak against upper caste, that is why provisions have been made by way of amendment for the protection of witnesses and rehabilitation of victims. All humans are equal including in their frailings. To treat SCs. and STs. as persons who are prone to lodge false reports under the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act for taking revenge or otherwise as monetary benefits made available to them in the case of their being subjected to such offence, would be against fundamental human equality. It cannot be presumed that a person of such class would inflict injury upon himself and would lodge a false report only to secure monetary benefits or to take revenge. If presumed so, it would mean adding insult to injury, merely by the fact that person may misuse provisions cannot be a ground to treat class with doubt. It is due to human failings, not due to the caste factor. The monetary benefits are provided in the cases of an acid attack, sexual harassment of SC/ST women, rape, murder, etc. In such cases, FIR is required to be registered promptly. (Para 51)

It is an unfortunate state of affairs that the caste system still prevails in the country and people remain in slums, more particularly, under skyscrapers, and they serve the inhabitants of such buildings. (Para 52)

To treat such incumbents with a rider that a report lodged by an SCs/STs category, would be registered only after a preliminary investigation by Dy. S.P., whereas under Cr.PC a complaint lodged relating to cognizable offence has to be registered forthwith. It would mean a report by upper­caste has to be registered immediately and arrest can be made forthwith, whereas, in case of an offence under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, it would be conditioned one. It would be opposed to the protective discrimination meted out to the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as envisaged under the Constitution in Articles 15, 17 and 21 and would tantamount to treating them as unequal, somewhat supportive action as per the mandate of Constitution is required to make them equals. It does not prima facie appear permissible to look them down in any manner. It would also be contrary to the procedure prescribed under the Cr.PC. (Para 53)

Concerning public servants, the provisions contained in Section 197, Cr.PC provide protection by prohibiting cognizance of the offence without the sanction of the appointing authority and the provision cannot be applied at the stage of the arrest. That would run against the spirit of Section 197, Cr.PC. Section 41, Cr.PC authorises every police officer to carry out an arrest in case of a cognizable offence and the very definition of a cognizable offence in terms of Section 2(c) of Cr.PC is one for which police officer may arrest without warrant. (Para 56)

While issuing guidelines mentioned above approval of appointing authority has been made imperative for the arrest of a public servant under the provisions of the Act in case, he is an accused of having committed an offence under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Permission of the appointing authority to arrest a public servant is not at all statutorily envisaged; it is encroaching on a field which is reserved for the legislature. The direction amounts to a mandate having legislative colour which is a field not earmarked for the Courts. (Para 58)

The direction is discriminatory and would cause several legal complications. On what basis the appointing authority would grant permission to arrest a public servant? When the investigation is not complete, how it can determine whether public servant is to be arrested or not? Whether it would be appropriate for appointing authority to look into case diary in a case where its sanction for prosecution may not be required in an offence which has not happened in the discharge of official duty. Approaching appointing authority for approval of arrest of a public servant in every case under Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is likely to consume sufficient time. The appointing authority is not supposed to know the ground realities of the offence that has been committed, and arrest sometimes becomes necessary forthwith to ensure further progress of the investigation itself. Often the investigation cannot be completed without the arrest. There may not be any material before the appointing authority for deciding the question of approval. To decide whether a public servant should be arrested or not is not a function of appointing authority, it is wholly extra­statutory. In case appointing authority holds that a public servant is not to be arrested and declines approval, what would happen, as there is no provision for grant of anticipatory bail. It would tantamount to take away functions of Court. To decide whether an accused is entitled to bail under Section 438 in case no prima facie case is made out or under Section 439 is the function of the Court. The direction of appointing authority not to arrest may create conflict with the provisions of Act of 1989 and is without statutory basis. (Para 59)

By the guidelines issued, the anomalous situation may crop up in several cases. In case the appointing authority forms a view that as there is no prima facie case the incumbent is not to be arrested, several complications may arise. For the arrest of an offender, maybe a public servant, it is not the provision of the general law of Cr.PC that permission of the appointing authority is necessary. No such statutory protection provided to a public servant in the matter of arrest under the IPC and the Cr.PC as such it would be discriminatory to impose such rider in the cases under the Act of 1989. Only in the case of discharge of official duties, some offence appears to have been committed, in that case, sanction to prosecute may be required and not otherwise. In case the act is outside the purview of the official discharge of duty, no such sanction is required. (Para 60)

The appointing authority cannot sit over an FIR in case of cognizable, non­bailable offense and investigation made by the Police Officer; this function cannot be conferred upon the appointing authority as it is not envisaged either in the Cr.P.C. or the Act of 1989. Thus, this rider cannot be imposed in respect of the cases under the Act of 1989, may be that provisions of the Act are sometimes misused, exercise of power of approval of arrest by appointing authority is wholly impermissible, impractical besides it encroaches upon the field reserved for the legislature and is repugnant to the provisions of general law as no such rider is envisaged under the general law. (Para 61)

Assuming it is permissible to obtain the permission of appointing authority to arrest accused, would be further worsening the position of the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. If they are not to be given special protection, they are not to be further put in a disadvantageous position. The implementation of the condition may discourage and desist them even to approach the Police and would cast a shadow of doubt on all members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which cannot be said to be constitutionally envisaged. Other castes can misuse the provisions of law; also, it cannot be said that misuse of law takes place by the provisions of Act of 1989. In case the direction is permitted to prevail, days are not far away when writ petition may have to be filed to direct the appointing authority to consider whether accused can be arrested or not and as to the reasons recorded by the appointing authority to permit or deny the arrest. It is not the function of the appointing authority to intermeddle with a criminal investigation. If at the threshold, approval of appointing authority is made necessary for arrest, the very purpose of the Act is likely to be frustrated. Various complications may arise. Investigation cannot be completed within the specified time, nor trial can be completed as envisaged. Act of 1989 delay would be adding to the further plight of the downtrodden class. (Para 62)

When there is no provision for anticipatory bail, obviously arrest has to be made. Without doubting bona fides of any officer, it cannot be left at the sweet discretion of the incumbent howsoever high. The approval would mean that it can also be ordered that the person is not to be arrested then how the investigation can be completed when the arrest of an incumbent, is necessary, is not understandable. For an arrest of accused such a condition of approval of SSP could not have been made a sine qua non, it may delay the matter in the cases under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. (Para 63)

The direction has also been issued that the Dy. S.P. should conduct a preliminary inquiry to find out whether allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act, and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated. In case a cognisable offence is made out, the FIR has to be outrightly registered, and no preliminary inquiry has to be made. There is no such provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure for preliminary inquiry or under the SC/ST Act, as such direction is impermissible. Moreover, it is ordered to be conducted by the person of the rank of Dy. S.P. The number of Dy. S.P. as per stand of Union of India required for such an exercise of preliminary inquiry is not available. The direction would mean that even if a complaint made out a cognizable offence, an FIR would not be registered until the preliminary inquiry is held. In case a preliminary inquiry concludes that allegations are false or motivated, FIR is not to be registered in such a case how a final report has to be filed in the Court. The direction (iv) cannot survive for the other reasons as it puts the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in a disadvantageous position in the matter of procedure vis­a­vis to the complaints lodged by members of upper caste, for later no such preliminary investigation is necessary, in that view of matter it should not be necessary to hold preliminary inquiry for registering an offence under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (Para 65)

Direction Nos.(iii) and (iv) issued by this Court deserve to be and are hereby recalled and consequently we hold that direction No. (v), also vanishes. (Para 67)

Copy of judgement: Judgement_01-Oct-2019

-Adv. Tushar Kaushik

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