Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

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Written By: Mr. Pulkit Taneja

Introduction

The Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, also known as the Prevention of Atrocities act, 1989 (hereafter referred to as the POA), is constructed to prevent and prohibit discrimination and atrocities against the scheduled caste and scheduled tribes.

The Indian Parliament enacted the POA in September 1989, which focuses on the social upliftment of SCs and STs by promoting social inclusion, a voice against suppression, and living with dignity. This act describes some specific actions as crimes and provides the procedure for punishment. Section 3 of this act lists various offenses prohibited for any person not belonging to SC/ST.

This act also provides the police with the power of immediate arrest, i.e. a police officer could arrest a person who is accused of committing an act that is prohibited under this section and conduct the needed investigation without any warrant. Despite being a necessity of society, the POA has faced a lot of criticism due to its inadequate implementation and misuse cases. The Supreme Court of India in 2018, in its judgment, banned immediate arrests and included the provisions of anticipatory bail application within this act.

The court’s decision faced a lot of backlash from the government and various other non-governmental organizations focused on uplifting the SCs and STs. The government soon introduced an amendment bill of the POA in the Parliament to restore its provisions.

The amendment introduced section 18A(1) (a) which allowed the police to register an FIR against the accused without any preliminary inquiries or investigations, ruling out any possibilities and provisions of anticipatory bail applications. This article would include information regarding the POA and analyze issues and problems within this act.

Nature and Powers of the Act

The POA functions in three steps. Primarily it lists to identify acts that constitute a crime, then it provides for the procedure of setting up special courts to adjudicate the case, and lastly seeks to declare any region which is prone to caste discrimination cases as ‘atrocity prone’. 

As mentioned above, Section 3 of the POA identifies all the acts which are classified as crimes. In many situations, the minimum and the maximum punishment is imprisonment for six months and imprisonment for five years respectively. The act also seeks to punish any police officer or a public servant who does not follow duties as mentioned in the act. Rule 7(1) of the act states that any investigations with regards to a case under this act must not be done by a police officer below the rank of DSP.

There have been numerous judgments where the courts have identified the importance of this rule. In the case of D Ramalinga Reddy v State of Andhra Pradesh, the high court went to the extent of stating that any charge sheet or FIR which is filed with regards to POA done by an incompetent officer or an officer below the rank of DSP will be quashed. Similarly, in M Kathiresam v State of Tamil Nadu, the Madras High Court stated that it is ‘improper’ that any investigations conducted under the POA are done by an officer below the rank of DSP.

This provision of the act is essential for an unbiased investigation free of any undue pressure or influence, however, some states lack the number of such officers. Therefore, such a provision must be amended.

The POA is also reported to be highly misused. Using various provisions of this section, many political leaders get their political rivals arrested. The supreme court in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v State of Maharashtra discussed the legality of section 18 of the POA which restricts anticipatory bail applications. The apex court also provided some guidelines which sought to dilute the powers of this act. The court required a preliminary investigation before the registration of a complaint. These provisions, however, were later repealed by the Indian Parliament via an amendment and justified the validity of the original act by stating that the POA is the last thing the country can do for SCs and STs. It is essential to understand with the police getting immediate power to arrest a person for hurting the dignity of a person belonging to SC or ST; this provision could harm an innocent person.

Another problem that the POA faces is the lack of filling of FIRs. There have been reports which have identified that the police do not register many discrimination complaints due to the biasness of the upper caste police officers. Even if the FIR is registered, there is a high number of non-follow-ups. The special courts, which are mandatory according to the act, have only two states that have established one. Other states, in compliance with the act, have designated session courts into a special court. Therefore, while working with the pressure of usual caseloads, these courts are unable to provide special assistance to cases under the POA.

Conclusion

Analyzing the implementation of a law is extremely important when it comes to judging its effectiveness. Although the POA is often described as a powerful tool in combating discrimination, atrocities, and hate crimes against SCs and STs, its implementation lacks. Dedicating a session court in every district as a special court to adjudicate on the matters of discrimination under the act cannot help in a speedy trial. Actual special courts must be set up to deal with the cases under this act consistently.

The requirement of a DSP in an investigation relating to POA must also be amended to distribute caseloads. The presence of a high police officer is essential to avoid biasness in cases under POA; however, other arrangements or guidelines must be prepared to solve this concern. The administration must give the long-lasting history of struggles faced by the members of SC and ST a thought before amending any provisions of the POA. It is essential to understand that despite the lack of implementation of this Act, this act is a necessity of society.


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