The Supreme Court will assess the constitutional validity of Parliament’s 2018 Amendment to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. The Court will assess whether the amendment violates the principles of the presumption of innocence and fair and just procedure.
The petitioners challenge the constitutional validity of the Section 18A of the SC/SC (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, introduced by the 2018 Amendment to the Act. The Court will assess whether Section 18A violates the fundamental rights to equality, life and liberty guaranteed by Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
Further, the Court will examine if the Amendment violates the principle of judicial review, a basic feature of the Constitution. The Amendment directly undid a Supreme Court order.
In 2018, Parliament introduced Section 18A to overturn safeguards introduced by the Supreme Court in its Kashinath Mahajan judgement. Section 18A undoes all three safeguards introduced:
The safeguards from the Kashinath Mahajan judgment were intended to prevent people from abusing the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989. They were a response to the rising number of false charges being filed using the Act. The safeguards aimed to ensure that people accused under the Prevention of Atrocities Act are not presumed guilty and denied reasonable procedure.
Immediately after the judgement was delivered, Parliament moved to undo it. The judgement caused violent protests. Dalit and Adivasi groups organised massive rallies that unfortunately resulted in several deaths. Fearing the fall out, the State pushed through the 2018 Amendment. The outcry was so severe that Parliament did not even wait for the Supreme Court to hear a review petition challenging the judgment.
On 7th September, a Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices A.K. Sikri and Ashok Bhushan issued a notice to the Centre to file their response to this petition. On 29.10.2018, the Central Goverment filed an affidavit stating that the Parliament is competent to bring about the amendment to the Act. The Affidavit further records that high rates on acquittals in cases filed under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act cannot be the basis for the assumption that a majority of the cases filed under it are false.
1) Whether the absolute bar on grant of anticipatory bail for the accused is arbitrary and unjust violating Article 14?
2) Whether the bar on anticipatory bail infringes personal liberty of an individual who has been booked under the Act without any ground?
3) Whether the power of automatic arrest violates the safeguards under Section 41 and 41A CrPc and violates reasonable procedure under Article 21?