The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the constitutional validity of the controversial SC/ST Amendment Act, 2018. The two-judge bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Ravindra Bhat were hearing pleas seeking that the 2018 amendments to the Act be declared as ultra vires (beyond one's legal power or authority).
The pleas against the Act had stated that the Parliament had "arbitrarily" decided to amend the law and restored the previous provisions in such a manner that even an innocent person cannot avail the right of anticipatory bail. The 2018 amendments ruled out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, notwithstanding any court order. They provide that no preliminary inquiry would be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.
Justice Arun Mishra observed that a preliminary inquiry is not essential before lodging an FIR under the act and the approval of senior police officials is not needed. Justice Ravindra Bhat stated that in a concurring verdict that every citizen needs to treat fellow citizens equally and foster the concept of fraternity. Justice Bhat said a court can quash the FIR if a prima facie case is not made out under the SC/ST Act and the liberal use of anticipatory bail will defeat the intention of Parliament. The ruling has effectively overturned an order that the Supreme Court had itself delivered in 2018.
Parliament on August 9 had passed a bill to overturn the apex court order concerning certain safeguards against arrest under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe law. The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha. It had got the nod of the Lok Sabha on August 6.
On March 20, a two-member of the Supreme Court had said that the arrest of an accused under the SC/ST Act is not mandatory and recourse to coercive action would only be after a preliminary inquiry was conducted and was sanctioned by the competent authority. The bench, comprising Justices Adarsh Goel and UU Lalit said, that there was 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." The ruling had triggered several protests within the SC/ST community.