Thursday, April 05, 2018

Supreme Court bench relied on "Gujarat model" while delivering controversial SC-ST blackmail ruling of March 20

A Maharashtra rally on April 2 opposing "blackmail" order
By Rajiv Shah
Was the Supreme Court bench of Justices Adarsh Kumar Goel and Uday Umesh Lalit guided by what many consider the "much-hyped" Gujarat model while delivering its controversial judgment of March 20, which ruled that innocent citizens were being blackmailed under provisions of the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (POA Act)?
A closer look at the Supreme Court judgment reveals that of the five High Court judgments quoted by the bench for insisting upon its blackmail argument, three were delivered by the Gujarat High Court. The other two were delivered by the Madras High Court and the Bombay High Court.
Bringing this to light, Gujarat’s well-known Dalit rights leader Martin Macwan says, what is especially strange is, the Supreme Court did not even consider the fact that only 2.33% of India’s SC population lives in Gujarat.
Suggesting that “while Gujarat has 8.5% of India’s ST population, too, the blackmail claim is particularly directed at SCs”, Macwan says, “Gujarat being quoted maximum, High Court observations for misuse of the Act seems to have become a model for the contention on the misuse of the anti-atrocities Act.”
Wondering “what about 97% of SCs and 91.5% of STs who live in the rest of India”, Macwan insists, “Gujarat does not fall in the list first five states where maximum atrocities are recorded.”
The first Gujarat High Court judgment that the apex court uses is Dr NT Desai vs State of Gujarat of 1997. The judgment says talks of a “scheming, unscrupulous complainants”, who get arrested accused “on some false allegations of having committed non-bailable offence under the Atrocity Act.”
The second Gujarat High Court judgment, quoted by the apex court, is the Dhiren Prafulbhai Shah vs State of Gujarat of 2016. Delivering the judgment, the judge observes, “In the course of my present sitting, I have come across various cases wherein the provisions of Atrocities Act are misused.”
Martin Macwan
The judge continues, “I find that various complaints are filed immediately after elections, be it Panchayat, Municipal or Corporation, alleging offence under the Atrocities Act”, leading to the conclusion, “I have no hesitation in saying that, in most of the cases, it was found that the FIR.s/complaints were filed only to settle the score with their opponents after defeat in the elections.”
It elaborates, “I have also come across various cases, wherein, private civil disputes arising out of property, monetary matters, dispute between an employee and employer, dispute between the subordinate and his superior are given penal and the complaints are being filed either under Section 190 r/w. 200 or FIRs at the police station”, adding, “The matter in hand is one another example of misuse of the Act…” 
The judge observes, “An Act enacted for laudable purpose can also become unreasonable, when it is exercised over-zealously by the enforcing authorities for extraneous reasons. It is for the authorities to guard against such misuse of power conferred on them.”
Especially taking exception to Section 18 of the POA, it says, the law “imposes a bar so far as the grant of anticipatory bail is concerned if the offence is one under the Atrocities Act”, even though, “a person is accused having committed murder, dacoity, rape, etc. can pray for anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC on the ground that he is innocent…”
The third Gujarat High Court judgment the apex court quotes is Pankaj D Suthar vs State of Gujarat of 1992, which wonders “whether any statute like the present Atrocities Act, especially enacted for the purposes of protecting weaker sections of the society hailing from SC and ST communities can be permitted to be abused by conveniently converting the same into a weapon of wrecking personal vengeance on the opponents?”
The judgment says, “The answer to this question is undoubtedly and obviously No”, adding Section 18 of the Atrocities Act quite cannot be followed “mechanically and blindly, merely guided by some general and popular prejudices based on some words and tricky accusations”.
If this happens, the judgment underlines, “Then it would be simply unwittingly and credulously playing in the hands of some scheming unscrupulous complainant in denying the justice.”

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