Our society has been classified into different castes, religions, races, and languages. Although the government has devised different ways of curbing inequality and filling in the gap between the upper and lower caste, the Dalits and tribal people still suffer harassment, discrimination, and offences. There was an increase in violence against the datils and tribal people. Hence, the Parliament enacted the SC and Schedule Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989.
In this article, we will discuss the Schedule Caste and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, its objectives, salient features, offender, victims and offences, implementation, provisions for implementation and rehabilitation, special courts, anticipatory bail, the process of seeking remedy and amendments.
The objective of the SCST Act
Article 342(1) & Article 366(25) of the Constitution defines Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes as a special category of a community or tribe in a State and union territories as may be declared by the President.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, is also known as the SC/ST Act, Atrocities Act, and The Prevention of Atrocity (POA) Act.
The main objective of the Act is to prevent the occurrence of atrocities or crimes against Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribes. It highlights certain crimes against the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes as ‘atrocities’ and describes strategies and puts forward punishments against these atrocities. Atrocities mean shockingly inhumane behaviour containing elements of suffering in some form or the other.
The Act has attempted to curb and punish atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in three ways –
- It identifies acts that constitute atrocities
- Directs the State Government to create special courts to try cases registered under the Act
- Directs the State Government to identify and mark a state with high crime rates against Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes as ‘atrocity-prone’ areas and appoint an officer to monitor and maintain law and order.
Salient features of the SCST Act
The Act applies to crimes committed against the members of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes by non-members of Schedule castes or Schedule Tribes. However, it also does not cover crimes committed between the members of Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes. Therefore, a person belonging to one tribe or caste cannot be prosecuted or punished for committing a crime against another tribe or caste under the provisions of this Act. (Kanubhai M. Parmar Vs. State of Gujarat, 2000).
The Act has listed certain criminal offences as atrocities against the members of Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes under Section 3. These involve a denial of social, economic, and democratic rights, abuse and exploitation of the legal system, and behaviour patterns affecting the self-esteem and respect of the Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes.
The penalties and punishment for offenders are also provided under the Act.
The Act has created a Special Court for hearing the crimes committed against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The Act also provides relief and compensation for the victims of atrocities and their dependents.
Offenders, Victims, and Offences under the Act
An offender is a person who is not a member of the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes and commits an offence against a member of the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes.
The victim is a member of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe against whom an offence has been committed.
The offences committed by the offender are listed in section 3 of the Act. These are as follows:
- Forcing to eat or drink uneatable or offensive substances;
- Causing injury, annoyance, or insult by dumping waste matter or excreta in their premises or neighbourhood;
- Parading naked or with a painted body or face;
- Wrongfully depriving their rights over any premises, land, or water;
- Wrongfully denying cultivation of their land;
- Forced to work as a bonded labourer or beggary;
- Preventing them from exercising their right to vote or vote according to their wishes;
- Subjecting them to any false legal proceedings;
- Causing annoyance or injury based on false information through a public servant;
- Deliberately insulting and humiliating in public view;
- Sexually abusing a woman
- Depriving of the right to have clean drinking water;
- Depriving of the right of passage to a public place;
- Forcing them to leave their house or village;
- Falsely implicating in criminal cases thereby resulting in their imprisonment or execution;
- Burning their place of dwelling or worship to cause harm or injury;
- Wrongfully causing injury or subjecting to an offence through a public servant.
Implementation of the Act
The State Government must take measures for the effective implementation of the Act. These measures include –
- Adequate facilities such as legal aid so that people subject to atrocities are not denied justice;
- Travelling and maintenance expenses to the witnesses during investigations and trial of offences;
- Social and economic rehabilitation of the victims of atrocities;
- Appointment of officers to supervise the prosecution to check any contravention of the Act;
- Setting up committees to assist the government in the effective implementation of these measures;
- Conducting periodic surveys and making suggestions for better implementation of the Act;
- Identify areas where members of STs/SCs are likely to be subjected to atrocities and adopt measures to ensure their safety.
The Central Government should ensure that these measures taken by the State Government are implemented.
Central Government should submit a report on the measures taken by it and the State Government to each House of Parliament.
Nature of offence
All the offences listed above are cognizable offences, which means the police can arrest the offender without a warrant and commence an investigation without the Court’s permission.
Process of seeking remedy
The procedure for seeking remedy has been provided under Rule 5-7 of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995. Here is the process of seeking remedy under the Act –
Firstly, report a complaint to the nearest police station or the relevant police station having jurisdiction through a registered email address. The complaint can be oral or written.
Then, a spot investigation will be conducted by an Investigating Officer below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police. Name of victims, the damage to the property, and personal injury should be noted.
Next, the investigating officer will prepare a report and send it to the Superintendent of Police. Then, they will forward the report to the Director General or the Commissioner of Police. Finally, the Inspector in charge of the police station will be instructed to file a charge sheet with the Special Court within 60 days from the date of the summons.
If a charge sheet is not filed within 60 days from the date of summons before the Special Court then the Inspector should submit an accompanying statement stating the reason for failure to file a charge sheet.
Special Courts under the Act
Section 14 of the Act provides that the State Government may, with the assistance of the Chief Justice of the High Court, designate each district Session Court as a Special Court to try offences by notifying it in the Official Gazette.
The State Government, by notification in the Official Gazette, specifies a Public Prosecutor or an advocate having experience of not less than 7 years as a Special Public Prosecutor for taking matters in Special Courts.
The National Commission for backward classes suggests that for every Special Court, the State Government may appoint a Public Officer as an Investigating Officer only to investigate offences under the Act.
Provisions for investigation and rehabilitation under the Act
Section 23 of the Act gives power to the Central Government to frame rules for investigations and rehabilitation. Therefore, the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, were framed. As per Rule 7(1), any officer below the rank of DSP cannot investigate any offences committed under the Act.
So, any investigation made, and charge sheet filed by an officer below the rank of DSP can be quashed. (D. Ramalinga Reddy Vs State of AP)
Section 21(2)(iii) of the Act deals with the economic and social rehabilitation of the victims of atrocities. It provides legal aid to victims, and travel & maintenance benefits to the victims and their dependents and witnesses during investigations and trials.
As per Rule 11, every victim of atrocities or their dependent or witnesses will be provided compensation for the travel expenses. Furthermore, in case of a woman, minor, old and disabled victims or witnesses, a person will be provided to accompany them to the place of investigation, if requested by them.
Further, the victim will be entitled to receive medical reimbursement such as meals, blood transfusion, etc. In addition, a daily allowance of minimum wages for the maintenance and diet expenses of the victims will be provided.
According to Rule 12, the district magistrate should provide immediate relief, including food, clothing, shelter, water, medical and transport facilities, and other essential items necessary for survival to the victims and their dependents.
Rule 13 obligates the State Government to ensure that the victims are adequately represented by the police and administration and appoint an officer for the same.
Rule 14 also makes it obligatory for the State Government to include facilities for relief and rehabilitation for the victims of atrocities in the annual budget.
Anticipatory bail under the Act
Section 18 of the Act states that Section 438 of the CrPC does not apply to offences under the Act. The order of the Court regarding bail before an arrest has been in dispute since the enactment of the Act.
In Subhas Kashinath Mahajan Vs. State of Maharashtra And Others (2018) the Court has held that if it appears to the Court that atrocities reported under the Act are false, then the exclusion of anticipatory bail provisions as per Section 18 of the Act, cannot be taken as an absolute bar to the grant of bail.
The Court had observed that the Act has been misused and is unjust, arbitrary, irrational, and violative of Article 21 of the Constitution. There should be proper investigation and scrutiny before arresting any accused person in the FIR. The Court further put forward the following directions –
- No absolute bar on the grant of anticipatory bail under the Act, if there is no prima facie case or the complaint is found to be mala fide on judicial scrutiny.
- The arrest of a public servant can be made only with the approval of the appointing authority and in the case of a non-public servant with the approval of SSP. The arrest of such public and non-public servants can be made only with the permission of the Magistrate.
- The DSP should conduct a preliminary inquiry to determine whether the allegations are frivolous or motivated so that any false implication of an innocent can be avoided.
Any violation of these directions will attract disciplinary action and contempt.
However, this judgment was overruled in the Union of India Vs. the State of Maharashtra (2019), stating that prior approval of appointing authority for arresting a public servant is not necessary. IPC or CrPC does not prohibit it. Contrary to the provisions of Article 15(4) and Article 142 of the Constitution, it is impermissible. The Court had upheld that Section 438 of CrPC will not be applied to persons who have committed atrocities under the Act.
Moreover, keeping in mind that accusations can be false, untrue, or mala fide, the High Court has, in Prathvi Raj Chauhan Vs. Union of India, 2020 stated that while considering an application for anticipatory bail, Court should balance the two interests –
Firstly, the power under Section 438 CrPC should be used sparingly only in exceptional cases where prima facie case is not made out as per the FIR; and
Secondly, if an order is made for different classes of cases, then it will be an abuse of the process of law and a miscarriage of justice.
In Kailash Vs State of UP (2022), the Court upheld the judgment in the Prathvi Raj Chauhan Case and further held that the appellant can file an appeal under Section 14A of the Act and an application for anticipatory bail can be made only before the Special Court or Exclusive Special Court and not before the High Court.
Amendments to the SC &ST Act
The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, has put forward actions that should be treated as offences. These are –
- Forcing others to dispose of or carry the dead body of humans or animals or to do some manual scavenging,
- Garlanding with footwear;
- Disrespect any high-esteem deceased person;
- Impose or threaten economic or social boycott;
- Abusing by caste name of Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes publicly
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018, has inserted Section 18A, which overruled the Subhas Kashinath Mahajan Case judgment. It states as follows –
- For registration of FIR against a person under the Act, a preliminary inquiry is not required;
- To arrest and accuse under the Act, the investigating officer does not require any approval to arrest and
- The provisions of Section 438 of CrPC will not apply to the atrocities under the Act, irrespective of any order or judgment passed by any Court.
When can the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe members be considered an offender?
A member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribes can be considered an offender if they are engaged in any of the following activities –
- Preventing the use of common property resources;
- Preventing entrance of any place of worship that is open to the public; and
- Preventing entrance to any health or education institution.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was enacted to prevent crime or atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. It aims to protect their rights and ensure they are not deprived of justice. The Act states that for the accused who commits atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the provisions for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of CrPC do not apply to them. The Act also contains requirements for establishing Special Courts to hear the complaint filed regarding atrocities against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Social and economic rehabilitation of the victims of atrocities is also covered under the Act.