SC/ST Act: MP government reply on Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s statement vague, says HC

The Madhya Pradesh High Court on Thursday described as vague the reply filed by the state government in a case related to the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the public assertion by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that those accused under the Act will not be arrested before a probe.

The Gwalior bench of the high court had on October 1 asked the state government to file a reply with an affidavit, supported by an officer not less than the rank of a Superintendent of Police, to clarify if the Chief Minister had made any such statement.

A 35-year-old Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) in Shivpuri district has accused an eye technician of sexual harassment. Atendra Singh Rawat, 40, was booked under sections of IPC and SC/ST Act. The accused then moved an anticipatory bail plea and his counsel Atul Gupta cited Chouhan’s statement to argue against his arrest before probe.

The government reply filed on Thursday stated that newspapers had reported the Chief Minister’s statement made in Balaghat on September 20, but clarified that it has no legal sanctity and that no written order had been issued.

Referring to the provisions of Section 18A (1) (a) and (b) of the SC/ST Act, the reply mentioned that, “If the Investigating Officer feels necessary then he does not require any permission of the senior police officer to arrest an accused.’’

The reply filed on behalf of SP, Shivpuri, said further instructions had been sought, but no instruction had been received from the government.

Relying on an order passed on September 10 by another bench of the court, the reply said “the arrest of an accused is not mandatory when the offence has been registered for different offences under SC/ST Act and if the Investigating Officer (IO) feels necessary, then he can arrest an accused without any permission from the senior officer.’’

Observing that the reply was vague, Justice G S Ahluwalia said, “The question was whether any inquiry will be conducted before effecting arrest of an accused under the Act in the state or not? If the authorities are of the view that the IO ‘if feels necessary’ may arrest an accused without any permission from the senior officer, then it may give an uncontrolled and unchallenged discretionary power to the IO.’’

At this stage, the government counsel prayed for a short adjournment for filing a detailed reply with regard to whether any public statement was made by the Chief Minister or not, and if it was, then in compliance of such public declaration, the police authorities would conduct an enquiry prior to effecting arrest of an accused or not.

Posting the matter for further hearing on October 11, Justice Ahluwalia asked the state to clarify the nature of the inquiry which will be proposed by the state before effecting arrest of an accused.