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SC/ST Act order did 'great damage' to country, govt tells apex court

Hindustan Times logo Hindustan Times 13-04-2018 HT Correspondent

The Centre has urged the Supreme Court to recall its March 20 verdict banning automatic arrests and registration of cases under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, saying the ruling had done "great damage" by giving rise to anger among the people the law was meant to protect.

Written submissions drafted by attorney general KK Venugopal and submitted to the court on Thursday support the review petition filed by the Centre against the judgment, which made a preliminary enquiry of a complaint under the Act mandatory before the registration of a first information report (FIR) by the police.

According to the submissions, the ruling had caused a "lot of commotion in the country and also created anger, unease and a sense of disharmony". The situation, the Centre argued, can only be rectified through a recall of the order.

The submissions come against the backdrop of Dalit protests in the wake of the order, which was perceived to be a dilution of the SC/ST Act, a law meant to protect marginalised communities from abuse and discrimination. This ruling was necessary, the court said, to prevent the "rampant misuse of the tough provisions of the law."

It also held that a court can grant anticipatory bail if it, prima facie, finds the complaint to be an abuse of the law, false, motivated and intended to blackmail or harass a person.

On April 3, the Supreme Court refused to put its ruling in abeyance, saying the order was only meant to safeguard innocent people against harassment without affecting the rights of the marginalised communities. Hearing the Centre's review petition, justices AK Goel and UU Lalit remarked that those who had taken to the streets to protest had been "misled by vested interests".

The court, the AG submitted, was dealing with a "very sensitive issue" and that it was encroaching into the areas of legislation, a power beyond its jurisdiction. He specifically asked the court to recall the directive that specifies a preliminary enquiry by a deputy superintendent of police before an FIR is registered and also calls for disciplinary action as well as contempt proceedings if the direction is not followed.

"...the Court declares the 'role of this court travels beyond merely dispute settling, and directions can certainly be issued which are not directly in conflict with a valid stature. Power to declare law carries with it, within the limits of duty, to make law when none exists,'" read the AG's submissions, reminding the bench that the top court has itself upheld the validity of SC/ST law.

The Centre challenged the court's view that it was "filing in gaps". The judgement amends the law through judicial legislation. Reliance on English judgements by the court was "misapplied" because England has no written constitution, Venugopal said. "In India, separation of powers being part of the basic structure of the Constitution, there was no room for the court declaring that it could legislate and make plenary law," read the submission.

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