Nine people were killed and many more injured across several States on Monday as a ‘Bharat Bandh’ against the “dilution” of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act turned violent, with Dalit anger erupting over frequent attacks on their community. Much of the anger was obviously over what was considered a delay on the part of the government in filing a review petition against the Supreme Court verdict of March 20, 2018 that mandated a prelimiry enquiry before any arrest under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and ruled against automatic denial of bail to the accused. However, considering the normal delay over such matters that we have in India, a gap of 13 days between the apex court’s verdict and filing of the review petition cannot be regarded as a major delay. Be that as it may, the review petition moved by the Centre on Monday in the Supreme Court says inter alia: “If the legislative mandate by Parliament is for strict implementation for elimition of a particular mece, then it would not be permissible to dilute the implementation of any social welfare legislation by resorting to any exercise described as balance and given the form of laying down guidelines.” These words could very well be regarded as a virtual accusation of judicial overreach on the part of the apex court. The review petition goes on to say: “Such an exercise would not be in conformity with the settled demarcation of the jurisdiction between the legislative functioning of Parliament and the discharge of judicial functions by rendering interpretation by courts... The procedural checks by way of a prelimiry enquiry as directed by the court would tend to reduce the registration of cases, conviction in cases... and per se would act as a deterrent in even filing of FIRs.”
What is significant is that the Supreme Court judgement of March 20 had abolished automatic arrests and case registration under the Act, citing the need to prevent victimization through false cases. Since the Supreme Court judgement introduces the element of abundant caution, this involves the introduction of additiol safeguards that can be time-consuming, causing additiol delay in a system where the law’s delay is beginning to get accepted as being uvoidable. However, this may not be the only reason for the strong opposition to what the Dalits regard as the dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The government itself is of the view that potential misuse of a law cannot be a ground for diluting a provision ected by the legislature. “Such a principle (would make the Act)... toothless and nugatory,” according to the review petition filed by the government on Monday.
The general impression is that the Supreme Court ruling came in the form of a trigger, since it came on the heels of attempts to dilute quota implementations, reduction of jobs in favour of more contractual work and senseless attacks on Dalits not only for skinning cattle but also for riding a horse or wearing a moustache. What is urgently needed, however, is a means of having and enforcing one set of laws for all citizens of India regardless of their social standing, differences in upbringing and the presence of old and outdated sectarian laws that had existed earlier for different communities. The very purpose of having a Constitution that binds together all Indian citizens is defeated every time we look for special laws for different segments and communities of India. More importantly, it is the expectation of being able to insist on special laws for different communities that will further delay our ability to achieve the kind of unity that forges a strong tion. All demonstrations that end in a deaths, violence and arson have no place in a progressive and forward looking society.