Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention & Amendment of Atrocities Act 2018
The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989
is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to prevent atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The Act is popularly known as POA, the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act.
The normal provisions of the existing laws like, the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 and Indians Penal Code have been found inadequate to check these atrocities, continuing the gross indignities and offences against Scheduled Castes and Tribes. Recognising these, the Parliament passed ‘Scheduled Caste and Schedule
The preamble of the Act also states that the Act is: “to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, to provide for Special Courts for the trial of such offences and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”
The objectives of the Act clearly emphasize the intention of the Government to deliver justice to these communities through proactive efforts to enable them to live in society with dignity and self-esteem and without fear or violence or suppression from the dominant castes.
The practice of untouchability, in its overt and covert form was made a cognizable and non compoundable offence, and strict punishment is provided for any such offence.
Recent Amendments to the Act
The Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs) Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act, 1989 was amended recently to include new offences and to ensure speedy justice to victims.
The amendments to the Act were originally issued as an ordinance by the previous UPA government in March 2014.
The NDA government has now got the amendments passed in both the houses of Parliament.
Subsequent to the amendments, certain changes became necessary to the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995.
The said rules are now modified and were notified on 14th April, 2016.
The following major changes have been made now via the amendment
• Rationalization of the phasing of relief amount payment to victims for various offences of atrocities. The rules also specify relief amount for various offences of atrocities.
• Not linking payment of any part of relief amount with the requirement of medical examination for non-invasive kind of offences against women like sexual harassment, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty, to disrobe, voyeurism, stalking etc.
• Provision of relief for offences of rape and gang rape.
• Increase in the existing quantum of relief amount depending upon the nature of the offence, while linking it with the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers.
A new chapter on the ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’ has also been added to the act. The term ‘willful negligence’ of public servants at all levels, starting from the registration of complaint, and covering aspects of dereliction of duty under this Act has been clearly defined.
Presumption to the offences has been added to the act, i.e., If the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.
Violence against SC/ST is very nuanced in nature, so it is difficult to separate atrocities against SC/ST from law and order problems. So in many instances, the case is registered under IPC or CrPC than PoA.
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The provisions of SC/ST Act can be divided into three categories:-
• Provisions of criminal law.
- Creation of new types of offences not in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or in the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 (PCRA).
- Atrocities can be committed only by non-SCs and non-STs on members of the SC or ST communities.
- Crimes among SCs and STs or between STs and SCs do not come under the purview of this Act.
- Defines various types of atrocities against SCs/STs and prescribes stringent punishments for the same.
- Enhanced minimum punishment for public servants.
- Punishment for neglect of duties by a public servant(Section 4)
- Cancellation of arms licenses in the areas identified where an atrocity may take place or has taken place and grant arms licenses to SCs and STs
- Denial of anticipatory bail (Section 18) provided in Section 438 of the CrPC
- Denial of probation to convict (Section 19).
- Provisions for relief and compensation for victims.
- Provisions that establish special authorities for the implementation and monitoring of the Act.
- Creation of Special Courts and special public prosecutor.
- Mandatory, periodic monitoring system at District, State and National level
- Identification of atrocity prone areas
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015
In Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State of Maharashtra [Review of SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act ]
• Supreme Court opined that SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (PoA act) is being misused and checks are needed to prevent such misuse.
o The act has become a tool to persecute innocents and public servants for political and personal gains.
• Provided guidelines for preventing the misuse of the act.
o Preliminary inquiry at the level of DSP is required to verify the authenticity of the case before registering FIR.
o A person can be released on anticipatory bail unless a prima facie case of crimes or atrocities is made out.
o No FIR should be registered against government servants without the approval of the appointing authority.
• PoA act had to be interpreted in a manner which will ensure that “casteism is not perpetuated” through the implementation of the law.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was again amended by Parliament in 2016.
Some of the important provisions are:
(i) Completion of investigation and filing of charge sheet in the court within sixty days.
(ii) Provision of relief for offences of rape and gang rape (This provision has been introduced for the first time.)
(iii) Delinking requirement of medical examination for getting relief amount for non-invasive kind of offences against women like sexual harassment, gestures or acts intended to insult the modesty of women, assault or use of criminal force with intent todisrobe, voyeurism, stalking.
(iv) Provision of admissible relief amount to SC/ST women for offences of grievous nature, on conclusion of trial, even though not ending in conviction.
(v) Increase in the existing quantum of relief amount from between Rs. 75,000/- to Rs. 7, 50,000/-to between Rs. 85,000/- to Rs. 8, 25,000/-, depending upon the nature of the offence, while linking it with the Consumer Price Index for Industrial Workers for the month of January, 2016.
(vi) Provision of admissible relief in cash or in kind or both within seven days to the victims of atrocity, their family members and dependents.
(vii) Rationalization of the phasing of payment of relief amount to victims for various offences of atrocities.
(x) Regular Reviews of the scheme for the rights and entitlements of victims and witnesses in accessing justice at the State, District and Sub-Division Level Committees in their respective meetings.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2018
In the amendment of 2018 to the PoA Act the Union Cabinet decided to restore a provision of the SC/ST Act allowing the arrest of accused persons without a preliminary enquiry or prior approval that was recently struck down by the Supreme Court.
The preamble of the amendment says that the decision to arrest or not to arrest cannot be taken away from the investigating officer, a power given under the Criminal Procedure Code in which there is no provision for a preliminary enquiry.
Under the new provision, no preliminary enquiry will be required for registering FIRs against the accused and arrest of persons accused under the SC/ST Act and this will not require any approval. The provision of anticipatory bail shall not be available to the accused notwithstanding any court judgment.
The Union Law Ministry has approved the filing of review petition in the Supreme Court against the apex court’s recent ruling on the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.