The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
was enacted with the laudable purpose of protecting persons hailing from the SC,
ST community from any abuse or harassment. But over the years there has been a
rampant misuse of the Act for extraneous reasons such as to wreck vengeance,
blackmail, settle scores and personal vendetta.
As per data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) in the
year 2016, 5347 cases were found to be false cases out of the investigated SC
cases and 912 were found to be false cases out of ST cases. It was pointed out
that in the year 2015, out of 15638 cases decided by the courts, 11024 cases
resulted in acquittal or discharge, 495 cases were withdrawn and 4119 cases
resulted in conviction.
Striking Features of the Act
Section 18 is a stand out and largely mooted provision of this Act as it
denies/excludes application of section 438 CrPC (pertaining to anticipatory
bail) to persons committing an offence under the provisions of this Act. The
constitutional validity of section 18 of the Act was tested on the touch stone
of Right to Life and Right to Equality in the case of State of M.P. Vs. Ram
 and Manju Devi Vs. Onkarjit Singh Ahluwalia
however on both the occasions upheld the constitutionality of the said
section on the pretext that persons from the SC, ST community are vulnerable,
denied number of civil rights, subjected to humiliation and harassment and
further that there was increase in commission of atrocities against members of
SC and ST. Thus, it was concluded that the persons who are alleged to have
committed such offences can misuse their liberty, if anticipatory bail is
granted. But the Court in both the cases also held that anticipatory bail shall
be granted if no primafacie case is made out.
The Apex Court once again treaded the path of examining the contours of
section 18 of the Act in the case of Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan Vs The State
. To appreciate the findings with a proper perspective one
needs to understand the intensity of the facts and circumstances on which the
case was mounted. In this case the second respondent/complainant was employed as
a Store Keeper in the Government College of Pharmacy, Karad.
He was later posted
at Government Distance Education Institute, Pune. His superiors Doctor Satish
Bhise and Doctor Kishor Burade, made an adverse entry in his annual confidential
report as his integrity and character were not good. In retaliation he lodged an
FIR with Karad Police Station against the said two officers under the Atrocities
Act in the year 2006. Subsequently in the year 2010, the concerned Investigating
Officer had applied for sanction to prosecute the two officers under Section 197
Cr.P.C. to the Director of Technical Education who is the appellant in the
The sanction was refused by the appellant pursuant to which the
respondent/complainant lodged another FIR in the year 2016 against the appellant
under sections 3(1)(ix), 3(2)(vi) and 3(2)(vii) of the Scheduled Castes and the
Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 as also Sections 182, 192,
193, 203 and 219 read with 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). Therefore,
the appellant had approached the Supreme Court seeking to quash the complaint
foisted against him as the High Court had earlier refused to grant him the
relief he had sought for.
The Court had observed that protection of the innocent is as important as
punishing the guilty. Referring to section 18, the Court opined that a refusal
of anticipatory bail based on a mere accusation will result in grave damage to
personal and professional reputation of an individual.
The Court made a specific
distinction with respect to ‘exclusion of anticipatory bail' was meant to
protect victims against perpetrators of crime and that the provision cannot be
read to be applicable to those who are falsely implicated for extraneous
reasons. Therefore the Court ruled that the ‘exclusion' has to be applied to
genuine cases and not to false ones.
The Court proceeded to issue a slew of
guidelines which are as follows:
The Ripple effect
- Proceedings in the present case are clear abuse of process of court and
- 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 non-public servant after approval by the
Senior Superintendent of Police (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.
- 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 and Dr. N.T.
Desai and clarify the judgments of this Court in Balothia and Manju Devi;
- 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
- Any violation of direction (iii) and (iv) will be actionable by way of
disciplinary action as well as contempt.
Therefore this judgment made it unequivocally clear that there cannot be
automatic arrest for an offence under the SC, ST Act without prior
sanctions. These guidelines were perceived to have diluted the provisions of the
enactment and shaken the very objective of the mechanism to prevent the offences
This judgment triggered violence and protests across the Nation
and the guidelines created a furore amidst the SC, ST community. Voices of
dissent started swelling louder, the SC, ST community condemned the opinions
expressed in the Judgement and there were violent killings too which prompted
the ruling dispensation to file a review.
The Court admitted the review petition
but refused to grant stay. The Court further observed that the Judgement only
provides for a filter and those who are protesting have not probably read the
Judgement in toto and are being misled by some vested interests.
During the pendency of the review petition the Parliament brought about an
amendment to the Act by way of section 18-A.
This newly inserted section clearly
nullified the essence of the Judgement in Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan Vs The
State of Maharashtra
and the same was also challenged in Prathvi Raj Chauhan Vs.
Union of India & Ors.
, and the Court ultimately upheld the validity of the
In the mean while one of the Judges in the Bench hearing the review petition
retired, hence the matter was referred to a new bench and thereafter was
referred to a larger bench comprising of Justices Arun Mishra, MR.Shah and
BR.Gavai. The specially constituted larger bench recalled the order passed in
the year 2018 by holding that the SC & ST's are still striving hard to strike a
balance with the rest of the society hence such stringent protections are
essential for preventing further subjugation.
The Court also observed that the
Courts should refrain from entering into the domain or spheres exclusively
carved out for the legislature. The Bench also held that, ‘what legislature
cannot do legitimately, cannot be done by the interpretative process by the
Need for a Revamp
The Apex Court in review rightly observed that the guideline:
(ii) which requires
the prior sanction of the appointing authority to proceed against the public
servant is absurd on the ground that when investigation is not complete the
authority would have no tangible material on hand to determine whether the
individual should be arrested or not. Also an appointing authority will not be
in a position to sanction arrest for an offence committed outside the realm of
the discharge of his official duty.
As per guideline (iii) which stipulates
further Judicial scrutiny for deciding detention was held to be a nullity as
guideline (ii) was disapproved. The requirement for a preliminary inquiry to be
held by Deputy Superintendent of Police as per guideline (iv) was held to be
impermissible as neither the SC, ST Act nor CrPC envisages such a requirement.
Therefore the directions were held to be impermissible, impractical and were
recalled by a quorum of 3 Judges.
On the other hand there was no finding with respect to the unchecked abuse and
misuse of the Act. The Court merely said that other castes misuse the provision
of law too and that it cannot be just confined to one particular community. The
further observation that the reason for false complaints cannot be attributed to
the caste of an individual but has occurred only due to human failing's only
reinstates and reinvigorates the larger opinion that misuse and abuse of the Act
of 1989 does exist.
There is no doubt that the interest of SC, STs should be
protected, but the Judiciary and the Legislature must also be vigilant about
circumstances in which protection under the Act is predominantly sought for.
The Act definitely needs to provide for a provision to deal with errand people
who misuse the social legislation which was purported to protect them.
The Gujarat High Court in Dhiren Prafulbhai Shah Vs. State of
 observed that various complaints are filed immediately after
elections, be it Panchayat, Municipal or Corporation, alleging offences under
the Atrocities Act. It was found that in most cases F.I.R.s/Complaints were
filed only to settle scores with their opponents after defeat in the elections.
The Bombay High Court in Sharad Vs. State of Maharashtra
 opined that a
serious relook of the provisions of the Act is needed.
The Court observed
that there is rampant misuse of the provisions of Section 3(1)(x) of the
Scheduled Castes & Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, with
complaints being largely filed particularly against Public Servants/quasi
judicial/judicial officers with oblique motive for satisfaction of vested
Even in the most abhorrent and heinous crimes such as rape, murder, dacoity,
sedition etc., Courts are not barred from granting anticipatory bail. Therefore,
preventing the Courts from exercising the power to grant AB under a social
legislation such as the SC, ST Act reeks of arbitrariness and irrationality.
Theoretically it is possible to say that an application under Section
438 of the Code may be rejected by the Court because of express restrictions in
Section 18, 18A of the Act but the very same Court can grant bail under the
provisions of Section 437 of the Code, immediately after the arrest.
to be no logical rationale behind this provision of putting a fetter on grant of
anticipatory bail as there is no such prohibition in any way for grant of
regular bail. It is, therefore, all the more necessary and important that the
express exclusion under Section 18, 18A of the Act is limited to genuine cases
and inapplicable in cases where no prima facie case is made out.
One should also not forget the infamous case of Justice CS.Karnan wherein he
made scurrilous and contumacious remarks against sitting Judges of the Supreme
Court and High Court under the pretext of him being targeted for being a Dalit.
He was later prosecuted and was also sentenced under the Contempt of Courts Act,
1971 by the Supreme Court for failing to comply with the orders of the Supreme
Court inspite of several opportunities being given to him.
Thus this Act has been used on several occasions both by the powerful and the
powerless to shield themselves from adverse actions. There is a widely conceived
notion that people tend to trumpet their underprivileged position to their
advantage in order to wriggle out from legal consequences and complexities.
is unfortunate that in such eventualities an innocent person ends up facing the
wrath of this enactment for no folly of his. It is of course the bounden duty of
the legislature to protect the interest of the downtrodden but in the same
breath there has to be effective provisions in place to ensure that misuse or
abuse of this Act is curbed. After all according to the golden line that runs
through criminal jurisprudence ‘everyman is innocent until proven guilty'.
- (1995) 3 SCC 221
- (2017) 13 SCC 439
- (2018) 6 SCC 454
- 2020 SCC Online SC 159
- (2016) SCC Online Guj 2076
- (2015) 4 Bom CR(Crl) 545