Supreme Court’s 2018 verdict diluting Dalit atrocity law to be reviewed by 3-judge bench

  The Supreme Court on Friday referred its March 2018 verdict banning automatic arrests in Dalit atrocity cases to a bench of three judges. The top court’s ruling comes on a review petition filed by the centre last year. The top court had last year banned automatic arrests and registration of cases under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, triggering protests in parts of the country against dilution of the law that was designed to protect marginalised communities from abuse and discrimination. The March 2018 ruling of the court required approval of the Superintendent of Police to arrest those accused of an offence under this law. Besides, it required a deputy SP to conduct a preliminary inquiry to find out if prima facie, a case can be made under the law. The ruling BJP initially appeared to go along with the verdict but later recalibrated its stand in the face of widespread anger among Dalit groups and opposition parties targeting the ruling party as anti-Dalit. The Centre first filed a review petition in the Supreme Court but the court didn’t immediately stay its verdict. A few months later, the changes were cancelled by Parliament to restore the power of police to carry out immediate arrests in cases of atrocities and denial of anticipatory bail. The implementation of the 1989 SC/ST Act has been patchy. For instance, only 16 percent of people charged under the 1989 law were convicted in 2016. But it has been associated with the notion of power and dignity for the marginalised sections, who could file a case against members of the powerful upper caste.



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