• Supreme Court in early 2018 stressed the need for providing inbuilt safeguards within the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act to plug its misuse.
• While this was for preventing the framing of innocents, the leeway that will be provided is likely to aid offenders to get away.
What are the implications of the verdict?
• What – SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act is a standalone legal protection granted to the depressed classes against casteist slurs, abuses and violence.
• The act also provides for stringent provisions like non-bailable warrants and a subsequent fast-track trial to settle the case.
• Nonetheless, despite these strong provisions, casteist crimes continue to dominate the larger narrative in most parts of rural India.
• Considering the context, framing of innocents under the act is likely to be rare and the court verdict asking for safeguards to prevent misuse looks naive.
• Verdict – The court seems to have had a narrow minded focus on few cases of misuse of the act by elitist SC/STs sitting in high government/private offices.
• The call for new guidelines to deal with accused persons is hence likely to dilute the act and provide scope for offenders to escape.
• On the whole, the judgment is likely to make the depressed class more vulnerable to abuse and further their victimisation.
• More significantly, it seems to convey that the act is being misused considerably by the depressed classes to blackmail and frame innocents.
What are the concerns with court’s rationale?
• Conviction rate – The Supreme Court has taken note of a large number of acquittals in SC/ST atrocities cases as an indicator of them being largely false.
• But this is a flawed logic because, in SC/ST abuse cases, the accused tend to processes significant social and economic heft in their localities.
• Contrastingly, the victims tend to be those on the margins of the society who’ll have to face police apathy and institutional suppression.
• Additionally, the conviction rate under other acts isn’t very impressive either.
• Data Trend – There is also no precise data on the scale and extent to which the Act has been misused by the elitist SC/ST government/private employees.
• With little data, the court seems to have concluded that there is a considerable misuse of the act by the SC/STs to settle personal scores.
• Misuse prevention – There are already provisions within the “Indian Penal Code”, which prescribe punishments for falsifying evidence.
• The court’s verdict doesn’t specify on why these were found insufficient to deal with the falsified SC/ST atrocity cases too.
What are the other procedural flaws in the verdict?
• Considering the implications, it would’ve been prudent for the bench to have sought larger consultations before pronouncing its verdict.
• Article 338 stipulates that governments should consult the “National Commission for SC” on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Castes.
• Similarly, article 338 A mandates all major policy decision affecting STs to be taken in consultation with “National Commission for Scheduled Tribes”.
• Considering this, the Supreme Court is also bound to hear these commissions before pronouncements that are likely to impact SC/STs on a whole.
• But in its urge to weed out the misuse of SC/ST atrocities act, the court seems to have subdued constitutional prudence and overlooked the commissions.
• Some argue that SC’s verdict doesn’t constitute a major impactful policy decision and that it merely tweaked the existing act.
• But spontaneous protests that erupted in the aftermath indicate otherwise, and the verdict was definitely seen as a major affront on social justice.