SC/ST Act order affected morale, confidence: Centre to SC

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New Delhi, May 3 (IANS) The Centre on Thursday told the Supreme Court that its judgment diluting a stringent provision of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has “seriously affected their (SCs/STs) morale and confidence”.

Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told a bench of Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice Uday Umesh Lalit that their March 20 judgment holding that arrest on a complaint under the law was not mandatory has shaken the confidence of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes “in the ability of the state to protect them”.

He added that it resulted in the death of eight people during protests as well as an increase in the instances of attack on the SCs and STs.

The bench however questioned the submission saying its judgment did not lead to the deaths.

“Our judgment did not incite any one to commit crime. Our judgment has been wrongly understood. The SC/ST community has full protection of this court,” said Justice Goel refuting Venugopal’s argument.

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Amicus curiae Amarendra Sharan opposed the plea by the Attorney General urging the court to stay the operation of its March 20 judgment by which it had issued several directions providing for preliminary inquiry before an FIR is lodged and action is taken on a complaint alleging atrocities under the Act.

“Don’t stay (it), it will send a wrong message” that by taking to the streets, the top court’s judgment can be bent, he argued.

Telling the court that its judgment amounted to an exercise in law making, the Attorney General urged the bench to refer to a larger bench the question whether the top court can issue directions, guidelines or mandamus contrary to the provision of existing laws.

He said that directions issued in the March 20 judgment which the Central government is seeking to be reviewed were contrary to the provision of the Act and amounted to whittling down of the stringent provisions.

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Citing several instances from the court’s past pronouncements including that of collegium system, appointment of judges, Justice Goel said: “The court has stepped in to fill the gaps in law. (Constitution’s) Article 21 – guaranteeing protection of life and personal liberty – has been read in the SC/ST Act.”

Justice Lalit said what has been put by the court is a “filter” before a complaint is acted upon.

“It is not that the judgment says no registration of crime. It is not that the perpetrators of crime should not be punished. Let there be a filter” before a complaint is acted upon and an accused is arrested, he said.

As the Attorney General cited the instances of an 83-year-old Dalit woman burnt alive and Thakur community members not allowing a Dalit bridegroom to mount a horse as his wedding party goes to the bride’s home, Justice Goel asked: “Why it is that action is not being taken. There has to be quick punishment.”

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The judge also said the burning of the Dalit woman was murder.

As Venugopal argued that only 13 to 15 per cent of the complaints were found to be false, the court observed that does not mean that remaining 85 per cent were true.

The court fixed May 16 for further hearing of the matter when Sharan would respond to the Attorney General’s submissions.

The Central government moved the top court for the review of its March 20 judgment that generated a lot of protests including by lawmakers, who felt that the Supreme Court verdict had diluted the provisions of the Act.

–IANS

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