The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay its controversial order that allegedly dilutes the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The two-judge bench that Chief Justice Dipak Misra set up earlier in the day said it had not read down provisions of the atrocities law but only wanted to protect innocent people from being arrested under it, The Indian Express reported.
Attorney General K K Venugopal, on behalf of the Centre, and the Maharashtra government – the two parties to the case – pleaded for Justice AK Goel and Justice UU Lalit to stay the court’s March 20 judgement that protects a public servant from being arrested under the law without a preliminary inquiry.
The Supreme Court, which was hearing the Centre’s review petition challenging the order, said its ruling will neither obstruct authorities from compensating complainants in cases filed under the SC/ST Act nor stop the police from lodging first information reports. The bench asked all parties to submit detailed replies within two days and scheduled the next hearing for April 13.
The bench agreed to hear the review petition in open court a day after at least nine people died and hundreds were detained on Monday in violence during protests against its order. Multiple Dalit organisations had called for a nationwide shutdown.
While the Centre had filed its review petition in court on Monday, contending that any dilution of the statute would deprive Dalits and Adivasis of the right to a dignified life as guaranteed under the Constitution, the Supreme Court had initially refused to list the petition for an urgent hearing. Chief Justice Misra had said there was no urgency to list the case, and that it would be taken up in time.
On Tuesday, however, the attorney general mentioned the matter before the chief justice and asked for a stay on the judgement citing the law and order situation in the country, according to Bar and Bench.
What was the SC’s order?
While passing the order on March 20, the Supreme Court said it was aimed at curbing the alleged misuse of the Act. According to its order, no public servant accused under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act can be taken into custody until an officer, not below the rank of deputy superintendent, conducts a preliminary inquiry.
At the time, the bench of justices Adarsh Goel and UU Lalit also said a public servant can be arrested only after the authority that appointed him approves it. The court cited the low conviction rates under the act to infer that the stringent provisions in the law were being misused.
Several leaders across party lines, as well as members of the SC/ST communities criticised the order. While several BJP leaders earlier demanded the review petition, the Congress accused the Centre and the Maharashtra government – parties to the case – of not presenting it properly before the top court.