SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 UPSC

SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) ACT – 1989, Why in News ? : The Supreme Court of India, in a recent judgment said that all insults or intimidations to persons belonging to Dalit or tribal communities will not be an offence under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

Court’s Observations :

  • The court held, since the incident occurred within four walls in the absence of members of the public, allegations against Verma under the Act do not stand. 
  • The man can be tried under ordinary criminal law.
  • The insult should be specifically intended to humiliate the victim for his caste.
  • Offence under the Act is not established merely on the fact that the complainant is a member of Scheduled Caste unless there is an intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe for the reason that the victim belongs to such caste.
  • The object of the Act is to punish the violators who inflict indignities, humiliations and harassment.
What-is-Scheduled-Castes-and-Scheduled-Tribes-(Prevention-of-Atrocities)-Act.-1989-SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 UPSC

What is Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. – 1989?

The provisions of SC/ST Act can be divided into three categories:-

  • Provisions for criminal law.
    • Creation of new types of offences not covered under IPC and PCRA – 1955
    • Focus only on atrocities committed by non-SCs and non-STs on members of the SC or ST communities. 
    • Prescribes stringent punishments for atrocities gains SC and ST and also defines types of atrocities.
    • Enhanced minimum punishment for public servants.
    • Cancellation of arms licenses in the areas identified where an atrocity may take place or has taken place and grant arms licenses to SCs and STs
    • Denial of anticipatory bail (Section 18) provided in Section 438 of the CrPC
    • Denial of probation to convict (Section 19).
  • Provisions for relief and compensation for victims belonging SC and ST categories.
  • Provisions that establish special authorities for the implementation and monitoring of the Act.
    • Creation of Special Courts and Special public prosecutor 
    • Mandatory, periodic monitoring system at District, State and National level
    • Identification of atrocity prone areas 

 Recent Amendment

SC and ST Amendment Act – 2015

The Bill replaces the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014.

  • Amended existing categories and adds new categories of actions to be treated as offences.
  • Offences in case of sexual exploiting of SC or ST woman were amended
  • New offences included are:
  • (a) garlanding with footwear
  • (b) compelling to dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or do manual scavenging,
  • (c) abusing SCs or STs by caste name in public,
  • (d) attempting to promote feelings of ill-will against SCs or STs or disrespecting any deceased person held in high esteem, and
  • (e) imposing or threatening a social or economic boycott.
  • Preventing SCs or STs from undertaking the following activities will be considered an offence:
  • (a) using common property resources,
  • (b) entering any place of worship that is open to the public
  • (d) entering an education or health institution
  • The act specifies the duties of public servants
  • Under the earlier Act, a court of Session at the district level is deemed a Special Court
    • Amendment specifies that an Exclusive Special Court and  exclusive Special Public Prosecutor must be provided at the district level
    • cases should be disposed of within two months
  • Added a chapter on the rights of victims and witness.
    • The duty of the state to make arrangements for the protection of victims, their, and witnesses.
    • The state government shall specify a scheme to ensure the implementation of rights of victims and witnesses.
  • Forcing an SC or ST individual to vote or not vote for a particular candidate in a manner that is against the law is an offence under the Act. Also becoming obstacle to such rights will also be consider as offence.
  • Wrongfully occupying land belonging to SCs or STs is an offence under the Act.  The Bill defines ‘wrongful’ in this context, which was not done under the Act.

SC and ST Amendment Act – 2018

  • In 2018, the Supreme Court stated that for persons accused of committing an offence under the Act, approval of the Senior Superintendent of Police will be required before an arrest is made. 
  • Further, the Deputy Superintendent of Police may conduct a preliminary enquiry to find out whether there is a prima facie case under the Act. 
  • The Bill states that the investigating officer will not require the approval of any authority for the arrest of an accused. 
  • Further, it provides that a preliminary enquiry will not be required for the registration of a First Information Report against a person accused under the Act.
  • The Act states that persons accused of committing an offence under the Act cannot apply for anticipatory bail.  The Bill seeks to clarify that this provision will apply despite any judgments or orders of a court that provide otherwise.

Various forms of atrocities against SC/ST

Caste clashes: Tensions caused between upper castes and Dalits due to the perceived upward mobility of Dalits.

Cow Vigilantism: Dalits and Muslims are at the receiving end of this vigilantism.

Honour Killing: It is an extreme form of Moral Policing. (Fear of losing the caste status which brings them several benefits, people often commit this heinous crime when their son or daughter marry someone from outside their caste)

  • In Lata Singh vs. the State of UP, Supreme Court has opined that inter-caste marriages are in the national interest as they destroy the caste system.
    • In Bhagwan Dass v. Delhi deemed honour killings in the “rarest of rare” category of crimes that deserve the death penalty.

Social boycott: They function as Kangaroo Court. Khap panchayat/caste panchayat ostracizing Dalits them from society.

Law Commission drafted the Prohibition of Unlawful Assembly (Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances) Bill, 2011 that sought to declare khap panchayats unlawful. Lapse after dissolution of Lok Sabha in 2014

Manual scavenging: Manual scavenging term used for “manually cleaning, carrying, disposing of, or otherwise handling, human excreta in an insanitary latrine or in an open drain or pit”. It is linked to a caste system where the so-called low castes were expected to perform this job.

Constitutional provisions against SC/ST atrocities:

Article 17 – constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability.

Article 46 –  State shall strive to promotes the educational and economic interests of SCs, STs, and other weaker sections of the society and protects them from social injustice and exploitation.

Article 338 – National Commission for Scheduled Castes

  • Investigate and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and other legal  safeguards for the SCs and to evaluate their working.
    • Inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the SCs.

Article – 338-A – National Commission for Scheduled Tribes

  • Investigate and monitor all matters relating to the constitutional and other legal safeguards for the STs and to evaluate their working.
  • Inquire into specific complaints with respect to the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the STs.

Way ahead:

  • Government should increase awareness about legal remedies and rights available to marginalized section of society. Also enhance facilities, so more cases should be registered
  • Step should be taken to minimize duration of trials
  • Research should be conduct to have clear picture about false accusation.
  • Police in-different should be checked- Improving training of police officers in dealing with POA cases so that they can solve cases without any pressure.
  • More engagement of people in mainstream society and positioning at key governmental positions – proactive measures to improve participation of people from SC/ST community in decision making and government functioning.

SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989 UPSC

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