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Case Reviews, The Law

Prithvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India

The Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of Parliament’s 2018 Amendment to the Section 18A of the Schedule Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,1989

By: Pallavi Kumar, 2nd Year, LLB, Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

TITLE OF CASE– Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India

CASE NO. – WP(C) 1015/2018

DATE OF DECISION– 10 February, 2020

COURT– Supreme Court of India

Background 

In India, the centuries old caste system has deprived millions of backward class people from basic human rights. The Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 is an Act to thwart the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. This act also provides for Special Courts for the trial of such offences and provide strict penal measures for offenders. The act also provides for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences. The Act does not have anticipatory bail provision for offences registered under it.

Facts 

  • Petitioners in the case challenged the constitutional validity of section 18-A of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018. The petition was filed on the ground that the provisions of Prevention of Atrocities Act was misused. The petition was framed on the ground that section 18-A of the  Act nullifies the decision of Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra &anr. [1] Several safeguards were brought about in the case of Kashinath Mahajan but it was overturned by the parliament. 

Following were the safeguards-

  1. Conduct of preliminary inquiry before registration of First Information Report
  2. Investigating officer should receive approval before arrest.
  3. Anticipatory bail to accused, notwithstanding any judgment or order or direction of any court
  • The aim of Kashinath Mahajan Judgement was to prevent the people from abusing the Act. But the amendment diluted the effect of kashinath mahajan. After passing of Kashinath Mahajan the parliament took a step to undo the judgment as the step taken by the parliament  to undo the judgment caused so much violence and thousands took to street  and protest across India by the Dalits and Adivasis group and placed the amendment bill in the parliament.

The outcry was so severe that Parliament did not even wait for the Supreme Court to hear a review petition which was filed before the Supreme Court challenging the judgment.

  • Supreme court further issued notice on 7th September, 2018 to the central government to submit its response to the petition. In response to the notice, the central government file affidavit.

Several petitions were filed challenging the 2018 Amendment.

Issue 

  • Was  the absolute bar on grant of anticipatory bail for the accused arbitrary and unjust, violating Article 14 of the Constitution?
  • Does the bar on anticipatory bail infringe the personal liberty of an individual who has been booked under the Act without any ground?
  • Does the power of automatic arrest violate the safeguards under sections 41 and 41A of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1908? Does it violates the protection of reasonable procedure under Article 21 of the Constitution?

Arguments

Petitioners Contention

The counsel for the petitioner contended that the safeguards introduced in Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. The State of Maharashtra & Anr. was necessary as the Act was misused a a lot.

Further contended that the absolute bar on granting anticipatory bail will result in violation of fundamental right granted under Article 21 of Constitution relating to Personal liberty of a person.

Respondents Contention

Attorney General KK Venugopal on behalf of Central Government contend that the amendment was made due to large number of acquittal cases and police failed to implement the act properly and prosecution of accused was also not effective.

The petitioners counsel further argued that the amendment is in conformity with the aim of the act which states for the protection of the SC/ST section of the society.

Judgment 

In this case the three-judge bench of Supreme Court of India has sustained the Constitutional validity of section 18-A of “The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018” and had nullified the effect of Kashinath Mahajan case. The court also  held that the guidelines laid  in the Kashinath Mahajan case had placed superfluous burden upon people belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes.

While dealing with the section 18-A of the Act, the court said that while looking into the provision of section 18 with respect to preliminary inquiry before registration of FIR, the inquiry is permissible only in conditions laid down in Lalita Kumari v. Government of U.P. [2]

Court further held that no anticipatory bail to be given for offences committed against the people belonging to the Scheduled Caste and Schedule Tribes covered  under the SC/ST Amendment Act.  Justice Ravindra Bhat observed that anticipatory bail can only be given in the exceptional cases and not in every case. The court had earlier observed that the anticipatory bail can only be granted where there is no prime facie case under SC/SCT Act.

Justice Ravindra Bhat while delivering judgment also spoke  about equal treatment to all citizens and fostering the idea of fraternity because the concept of fraternity is equally essential as the personal liberty of a person.

Court further held that if an accused is a public servant, the arrest can only made after the approval of appointing authority and if the accused is non-public servant, the arrest can be made after the permission of Senior Superintended of Police.

Counsel

Petitioner– Shashi Kiran

Respondent– Attorney General K. K. Venugopal

Endnotes

[1] (2018) 6 SCC 454

[2] (2014) 2 SCC 1

[3] The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act,2018

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