Cases not malafide, says Centre

The high rate of acquittals seen under the Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 is not because the cases are false or malafide. It is because of the failure of the police and the prosecution to render justice to a section of society which has suffered social stigma, poverty and humiliation for centuries, the Centre told the Supreme Court.

The government was explaining its decision to enact the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018.

The 2018 Act nullified a March 20 judgment of the Supreme Court, which allowed anticipatory bail to those booked for committing atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes members. The original 1989 Act barred anticipatory bail.

The apex court verdict saw a huge backlash across the country. Several persons died in protests and crores worth of property was destroyed. The government reacted by filing a review petition in the Supreme Court and subsequently amended the 1989 Act back into its original form.

In August, several petitions were filed challenging the 2018 amendments. The lead petitioner, advocate Prithvi Raj Chauhan, even called the amendments a “blunder” and a violation of the fundamental right to equality and personal liberty. The Supreme Court, however, had refused to stay the implementation of the amendments.

No drop in cases

In its affidavit responding to these petitions, the government has spelled out that there has been no decrease in the atrocities committed on members of SC/ST communities despite the laws meant to protect their civil rights.

“It is untrue to say that the high rate of acquittal under Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) related cases is largely on account of false cases and misuse of provisions of the Act. It is rather attributed to several factors like delay in lodging the FIR, witnesses and complainants becoming hostile, absence of proper scrutiny of the cases by the prosecution before filing the charge sheet in court, lack of proper prosecution of the case, long pendency of the trial, lack of corroborative evidence, etc., etc.,” the government affidavit said.

The Centre, represented by Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal, said, “It is misconceived and misleading to suggest that acquittal singularly takes place owing to either false cases or misuse of PoA provisions”.

The sad state of affairs continues despite the existence of 195 special courts across 14 States to exclusively try PoA cases. As per the National Crime Records Bureau, there is no decrease in the crimes against SC/ST members. The number of cases registered under the PoA in 2014 was 47,124, in 2015 it was 44,839 and in 2016, 47,338.

Increasing pendency

Of the cases filed in 2014, 85.3% cases are pending. Of those where the trial was completed, 28.8% ended in convictions while in 71.2%, the accused were acquitted.

The next year saw 87.3% pendency, 25.8% convictions, 74.2% acquittals while in 2016, with 89.3% pendency, there was 24.9% convictions and 75.1% acquittals.

“The SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 is the least which the country owes to this section of the society who have been denied several civil rights since generations and have been subjected to indignities, humiliations and harassment,” the government argued.

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