Atrocities against members of SC/ST are not thing of past, says SC
New Delhi: Atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not a thing of the past and the statutory provisions enacted by Parliament as a measure of protecting their constitutional rights must be complied with and “enforced conscientiously”, the Supreme Court said on Friday.
The apex court observed while setting aside an order of the Rajasthan High Court which had granted bail to an accused in a murder case in which offences punishable under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 were also added.
A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and B V Nagarathna noted that there was an “infraction” of the provisions of the SC/ST Act in the matter and the high court had not issued notice to the complainant under the provisions of section 15A of the law while considering the bail plea.
“Atrocities against members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are not a thing of the past. They continue to be a reality in our society even today. Hence, the statutory provisions which have been enacted by Parliament as a measure of protecting the constitutional rights of persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes must be complied with and enforced conscientiously,” the bench said in its verdict.
Section 15A of the SC/ST Act deals with the rights of victims and witnesses and its sub-sections (3) and (5) specifically make the victim or their dependent an active stakeholder in the criminal proceedings.
While sub-section (3) says that a victim or his dependent shall have the right to reasonable, accurate, and timely notice of any court proceeding including any bail proceeding under the Act, sub-section (5) stipulates that a victim or his dependent shall be entitled to be heard at any proceeding under the law in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction or sentence of an accused.
“There has been an evident breach of the statutory requirements embodied in sub-sections (3) and (5) of section 15A in the present case,” the bench said, adding that section 15A of the Act contains important provisions that safeguard the rights of victims of caste-based atrocities and witnesses.
It said the SC/ST Act has been enacted by Parliament to effectuate a salutary public purpose of achieving the fulfillment of constitutional rights of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
“Investigations in India are the exclusive domain of the police, where victims are often relegated to the role of being a spectator in the criminal justice system. Victims of crime often face significant hurdles during investigation and prosecution. Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes specifically suffer on account of procedural lapses in the criminal justice system. They face insurmountable hurdles in accessing justice from the stage of filing the complaint to the conclusion of the trial,” the bench noted.
It said due to the fear of retribution from members of upper caste groups, ignorance, or police apathy, many victims do not register complaints in the first place and if they muster up the courage to approach the cops, the police officials are reluctant to register complaints or do not record allegations accurately.
The top court noted that many perpetrators of caste-based atrocities get away scot-free due to shoddy investigations and the negligence of prosecution and this results in low conviction rates under the SC/ST Act giving rise to the erroneous perception that cases registered are false and that it is being misused.
“In the present case, it is evident that the right to notice and to be heard were violated,” the bench said.
It noted that when the complainant had moved the high court for cancellation of bail, the single judge took the view that compliance with the principles of natural justice at that particular stage would cure the deficiency.
“There has been a clear infraction of the mandate of the statute,” it said, adding, “Sub-sections (3) and (5) have been introduced by Parliament to ensure a right to be heard to the person against whom the offence is committed or to the dependents. These provisions must be scrupulously observed.”
It said sub-section (3) of section 15A of the Act provides that reasonable and timely notice must be issued to the victim or their dependent and this would entail that notice is served upon them at the first or earliest possible instance.
“If the undue delay is caused in the issuance of the notice, the victim, or as the case may be, their dependents, would remain uninformed of the progress made in the case and it would prejudice their rights to effectively oppose the defense of the accused. It would also ultimately delay the bail proceedings or the trial, affecting the rights of the accused as well,” it noted.
The bench said there was no reasoning in the order of the high court granting bail and such orders cannot pass muster.
“The duty to record reasons cannot be obviated by recording submissions, followed by an omnibus ‘in the facts and circumstances' formula. Brief reasons which indicate the basis for granting bail are essential, for it is the reasons adduced by the court which indicate the basis of the order,” it said.
The top court, while allowing the appeal filed by the man who had lodged a police report regarding the murder of his younger brother based on an FIR registered in 2018, said that the accused shall surrender on or before November 7. PTI