The Centre on Monday moved a petition in the Supreme Court seeking review of a March 20 judgement that framed guidelines for the implementation of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act. The Centre has contended that any dilution of the statue would deprive Dalits and Adivasis the right to a dignified life guaranteed under the Constitution.
In a strongly-worded petition, the Centre said the facts and data on the law, which have demonstrated a “weak implementation of the Act”, endorses the requirement for a strict interpretation of the provisions.
On March 20, the Supreme Court framed several guidelines that limited the Act. This included making permission from higher authorities mandatory for filing a case under the Act against public servants.
The petition said:
“The alleged potential of misuse would not deserve to be considered as a valid, justifiable or permissible ground for reading the stringent provisions of the PoA Act, 1989. Such a principle, if extended to offences created under other provisions of law, would render the criminal law and criminal procedure system toothless and nugatory.”
The petition said the Parliament had come to the conclusion in 2016 that the provisions under Section 3 of the Act, which enlists the offences, were further strengthened to make the law even more stringent.
The Centre also contended that the March 20 order was contradictory to the settled position of law that the court will not pass judgements that are legislative in nature. “It is also a principle of law that once the statutory provisions are clear and are unambiguous, it would not be permissible to apply the principle of “reading down” the law.
The petition said:
“If the legislative mandate of the Parliament is for strict implementation and for elimination of a particular menace, then it should not be permissible to dilute the implementation of any such social welfare legislation by resorting to any exercise described as balancing and in the form of laying down guidelines.”
In 2016, the Union government had said 47,338 cases were registered under the Act. The low rate of conviction for offences under the law was due to several factors such as delay in filing FIRs, witnesses and complainants turning hostile, absence of proper scrutiny of the cases by the prosecution before filing the chargesheet, lack of proper presentation of the case before the court by the prosecution and appreciation of evidence by the court.