Supreme Court upholds SC/ST Act amendment that bans pre-arrest bail

The Supreme Court on Monday upheld the validity of the 2018 amendment to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (SC/ST Act) which had among other things reintroduced the bar on anticipatory bail to those accused under the Act.

The judgment was delivered by a bench of justices Arun Mishra, Vineet Saran and Ravinda Bhat.

Parliament had, by an amendment to the SC/ST Act, introduced section 18A in 2018. The government had resorted to this step to undo the March 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court in Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan vs The State of Maharashtra.

In that judgment, the court had responded to allegations of abuse of the SC/SC Act and filing of false cases by introducing some safeguards. Foremost among them was that there would be no absolute bar on grant of anticipatory bail to a person accused under this law.

The court also mandated a preliminary inquiry prior to the registration of a First Information Report (FIR) and requirement of investigation officer getting further approval prior to effecting an arrest. In the case of a public servant, the court had said that arrest can be made only after the approval of the appointing authority and in case of a non-public servant, after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police.

The judgment which virtually diluted the provisions of the act had led to widespread protests by Dalit communities.

The central government eventually moved to file a review petition against the judgment and also amended the SC/ST Act to get over the court’s judgment.

Meanwhile petitions were filed against the amendment to the act on the grounds that it violates the right to equality and life under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.

In October 2019, the Supreme Court had allowed the review petitions and overturned its March 2018 judgment effectively sanctioning the amendment act.