SUPREME COURT RULES ON ARREST UNDER SC/ST ACT
The Supreme Court has recently passed a judgment in Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs. the State Of Maharashtra and Anr. on 20.03.2018 and held that there is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where on judicial scrutiny the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide.
Herein, the Respondent-Complainant, a store-keeper at the Government Distance Education Institute, Pune (College) and a member of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST), had lodged an FIR against the Directors of the College, under various provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (the Act) and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for making adverse entry in the Respondent’s annual confidential report to the effect that his integrity and character was not good. Thereupon, the investigating officers applied for sanction to the Appellant, the then Director of Technical Education in the State of Maharashtra, under Section 197 Cr.PC against the Directors of the College. But the sanction was refused by the Appellant and five years after passing such order, the Respondent filed an FIR under the Act against the Appellant on the grounds that the he was not competent to grant or refuse the sanction as the Directors of the College were Class-I officers and that in such cases only the State Government could grant or refuse sanction.
After being granted anticipatory bail, the Appellant applied to the Bombay High Court under Section 482 CrPC for quashing the proceedings on the ground that he had merely passed a bonafide administrative order in his official capacity. But the High Court rejected his petition stating that it cannot exercise its inherent powers to quash the proceedings as it may send a wrong signal to the downtrodden and backward sections of the society. Therefore, the Appellant filed an appeal before the Supreme Court against the aforesaid High Court judgment.
The Supreme Court made the following observations and held that:
The provisions of the Act may require a check on any false implications and accusations against innocent citizens on caste lines.
Section 18 of the Act provides that provisions of anticipatory bail under Section 438 of CrPC shall not apply to any case involving the arrest of any person on an accusation of having committed an offence under this Act.
The Object of the Act was that the members of SC and ST are highly vulnerable and often subjected to humiliation and harassment. In the event that the accused-perpetrators of atrocities under the Act are granted anticipatory bail, they may misuse their liberty and threaten/intimidate the victims and prevent or obstruct them in the prosecution of such offenders.
On the other hand, there has also been rampant misuse of such provisions to make false complaints or wreak personal vengeance against public servants/quasi judicial/judicial officers, etc.
Thus, the Supreme Court herein held that the express exclusion under Section 18 of the Act is limited to only genuine cases and is inapplicable where the accused is able to prove that he has not committed any atrocity against a member of SC/ST and that the allegation was mala fide and prima facie false. It further held that limiting the exclusion of anticipatory bail in such genuine cases is essential for protection of fundamental right of life and liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Otherwise, it may be difficult for public servants to conduct their official duties. People may take undue advantage of such provisions of the Act and black mail public servants with the threat of registering a false case under the Act and the public servants may be left with no protection of law. This could not have been the intention of the Legislature behind enacting the Act.
Further, there cannot be a presumption of guilt so as to deprive a person of his liberty without an opportunity of being heard before an independent forum or Court of law.
Furthermore, the innocent persons against whom no prima facie case is made out cannot be subjected to the same treatment as the persons who are prima facie perpetrators of the crime.
Thus, in case the Appellant apprehends arrest, he is entitled to show to the Court that there is no prima facie made out against him.
Thus, the Apex Court quashed the proceedings filed against the Appellant and further held that any arrest of a public servant under the Act can only be upon approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant upon approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police of the concerned district based on reasons recorded, which have to be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention. Further, before making any arrest of a public servant, a preliminary enquiry may also be conducted by the concerned Deputy Superintendent of Police to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Act and the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.
The Government has reportedly taken note of the aforesaid Judgment of the Supreme Court with regard to diluting the provisions of the Act to the extent of automatic arrest and registration of criminal cases under the said law, but the Government has also decided to file a review petition against the said Judgment in the Supreme Court in the coming week.
Senior Legal Associate
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