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SC qualifies its ruling on Atrocities Act (Relevant for GS Prelims, GS Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance)

‘Enquiry before arrest required only in frivolous cases’
The police need to conduct a preliminary enquiry before arrest only in cases where they feel a complaint filed about an atrocity committed on Dalits is outright “absurd” or “absolutely” frivolous.

Rationale behind the judgement
“In certain cases, there may be something, while in other cases there may be absolutely nothing. There may be cases which the police officers themselves feel are absurd. Such cases may be enquired into… not all cases. We said the police ‘may’ conduct a preliminary enquiry and never said it is a ‘must’,” Justice Goel orally observed.

The Bench is hearing a series of review petitions filed by the Centre and some States, including Tamil Nadu and Kerala, against the verdict.

Justice Goel said, “What is happening now is that everybody is arrested under the law even if the probe officer is convinced there is no case.”

Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal said the judgment had led to more crimes being committed against Dalits. He cited recent incidents of how bridegrooms were pulled down from their horses and beaten up by mobs.

Background
The Supreme Court had never intended, in its March 20 judgment, to make the enquiry before arrest a mandatory condition in each and every complaint filed by Dalits under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. This is how Justice A.K. Goel qualified the March 20 judgment delivered by a Bench of himself and Justice U.U. Lalit.

The March 20 judgment further required prior sanction to be taken from the appointing authority before arrest if the accused is a government servant and permission of the Deputy Police Commissioner concerned in case the accused is a private individual.

Widespread protests
The judgment, which banned immediate arrest of a person accused of atrocities against SC/ST community members, had led to widespread unrest and violence. To avoid prosecution of innocent people in frivolous cases filed under the Act, the court had ordered a preliminary enquiry to be conducted to check the veracity of the complaint. Till then, no arrests would be made.

What does the Act say?
The Act, on the other hand, forbids anticipatory bail to accused persons and prescribes immediate arrest.

(Adapted from The Hindu)

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