Day 6 Arguments

Legality of SC/ST Act Amendment

May 1st 2019

A 2 Judge Bench of the Supreme Court today reserved its verdict in the petitions challenging the the constitutional validity of the Section 18A of the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989, introduced by the 2018 Amendment to the Act.

The Bench comprising Justice Arun Misra and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit was also considering the review petitions filed in the  Kashinath Mahajan judgment of the Court delivered by a Bench of Justices A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit in March 2018. In its decision in Kashinath Mahajan, the Court had introduced certain safeguards including:

  1. Conduct a preliminary enquiry prior to the registration of a First Incident Report (FIR)
  2. Investigation officer must receive further approval prior to effectuating an arrest
  3. Grant anticipatory bail to any accused, ‘notwithstanding any judgment or order or direction of any Court

These safeguards were intended to prevent people from abusing the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. However the decision in Kashinath Mahajan led to violent protests by Dalit and Adivasi groups and the 2018 Amendment which has been challenged by the petitioners was in response to these protests. The case had first come up for hearing before a Bench comprising Justices AK Sikri and Ashok Bhushan which issued a notice to the Centre on September 7th, 2018. On January 24th 2019, however the Court clubbed the petitions challenging the 2018 Amendment with the review petitions challenging  and placed the matter before a Bench of Justice Lalit as he was on the Bench that delivered the Kashinath Mahajan decision.

On a previous date of hearing, the petitioners had pointed out that there cannot be review hearings and a substantive challenge to the Amendment at the same time. The Bench had however declined the plea to stay the amendment.

The case was taken up for hearing today after the matter was mentioned by the Attorney general Mr. K K Venugopal who submitted before the Court that the decision in Kashinath Mahajan was deeply problematic and sought the review of the verdict by the Court. This was however objected to by Mr. Vikas Singh, counsel for Priya Sharma, one of the petitioners who has challenged the 2018 Amendment to the SC/ST PoA Act. Mr. Singh’s argument was that pursuant to the Parliament having enacted the 2018 Amendment which had undone the decision in Kashinath Mahajan, the review petition filed by the Central Government had become infructous. He further reiterated his plea for a stay on the amendment till a verdict was delivered in the case. The Court observed that the decision in Kashinath Mahajan amounted to legislation and if any error had been made, the same could be corrected in the review proceedings. Recording that the laws in the country must be uniformly applicable and there cannot be separate laws for persons belonging to the General category and those from the SC/ST category, the Bench reserved its verdict in the case after a brief hearing.