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Is the ‘Misuse’ of SC/ST Act just a Bogey?

The latest Dalit protects across India on April 2 were projected as unmindful violence, saying the nine Dalits who were killed by the police in the BJP-ruled Hindi belt, Gujarat and Maharashtra deserved it.

The verdict came after a director of technical education in Maharashtra had filed an appeal. A dalit employee had filed a case against him under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act for not allowing him to prosecute his immediate superior officers, whom he had primarily accused of committing a ‘caste atrocity’. The appellant was granted anticipatory bail, but he filed a case before the Bombay High Court to quash the proceedings. The high court had rejected his plea.

If the supreme court had found merit in the director’s plea, it could have simply dismissed the case. But, instead, it went beyond a verdict to deal with the general misuse of the Act, and to impose conditions, regarding prior permission of the appointing authority required before any arrest under the Act can be made.

The police, in far too many cases, did not register cases under this Act. If registered, they would conduct a lopsided investigation. In trial, the prosecution would poorly handle the case, and the judiciary also did its bit to eventually acquit the criminal. As a result, the conviction rate hovered in single digits, until 2012.

In most cases, courts passed strictures against errant police officials. But they never punished any of them as per Section 4 of the Act that provides for 6-12 months of imprisonment.

The judgment raises the issue of misuse of the Act and cites figures for 2015, which reveal that 70% cases resulted in acquittals, even though they were not false.

The Supreme Court bench worried about the liberty of the accused and invoked Article 14 and 21, ignoring the constitutional exceptions of the special provisions in favor of SCs, STs and backward classes.

Instead of the Act being open to ‘misuse’, courts have actually regularly failed to consider a crime being committed because of the victim’s caste.

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