Minority Issues – SC, ST, Dalits, OBC, Reservations, etc.

[op-ed snap] Fault lines in a ‘landmark’ judgment


Mains Paper 1: Social issues | Social empowerment

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

Mains level: Changes in the SC/ST act after Supreme Court verdict and how it will reduce the effectiveness of the law


SC/ST Act verdict

  1. The verdict on the SC/ST Atrocities Act marks the collapse of the constitutional scheme to protect the weaker sections
  2. The verdict had framed guidelines on how to deal with a person accused under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

Protecting the falsely accused

  1. No sensible person can question the need to protect those who are innocent from arbitrary arrest
  2. The demand for “an inbuilt provision” to protect those falsely accused under the Act was first raised by a parliamentary committee in December 2014 and the apex court did so in March 2018
  3. The judgment is concerned with a limited aspect of the Act — protecting innocent officers and employees in government and private sectors from the misuse of the Act

Why the judgment?

  1. One must consider why a fence was put up in the first place before pulling it down
  2. The court appears to have mistaken a large number of acquittals in atrocities cases to be false cases
  3. Similarly, there is no precise data on the scale and extent to which the Act has been misused by SC/ST employees
  4. The bench obviously saw a broader pattern of misuse of the Act

Reasons for acquittal

  1. Police apathy
  2. The social and the economic might of the accused
  3. The dependence of SC/STs on those accused

Encroaching domain of the legislature

  1. The court’s single-minded mission to end “terror in society” rendered it oblivious to the constitutional procedure to be followed in making policies that affect the SC/STs
  2. Article 338 clause 9 stipulates: The Union and every State Government shall consult the Commission [National Commission for Scheduled Castes] on all major policy matters affecting Scheduled Castes
  3. Article 338A, which created the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, provides the same procedure (as per Clause 9) in the case of STs
  4. When the court wears the policy-making hat in matters related to SC/STs, it too is constitutionally-bound to consult these commissions

Way Forward

  1. The judgment has ended up conveying a false and dangerous message that the Atrocities Act is “a charter for exploitation or oppression,” and “an instrument of blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance”
  2. The task of balancing the rights of innocent persons facing false accusations and the need to accord legitimacy to the Atrocities Act requires compassion, equanimity, reverence for the Constitution and awareness
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