Can quash SC/ST Act cases if ‘civil’ offence: Top Court

Synopsis: The strict provisions of the SC/ST act are designed to protect the dignity of marginalized sections of society. But can a compromise be allowed under special circumstances?

Introduction

A recent case from Madhya Pradesh where a property dispute, essentially civil in nature, led to a casteist slur between the two parties. The two parties in question reached a settlement outside the court, and a petition of compromise was filed in the case.

Now the SC ruled that it can invoke its power of Article142 of the Indian constitution or HC under section 482 of the Code of Criminal Procedure to quash proceedings under SC/ST Act.

What is the need for special protection for SC/ST communities?

The SC/ST act was passed to ensure that marginalized segments of society are not targeted. It grants police the power to arrest without the need for a warrant from a magistrate.

The act was enacted keeping in view the constitutional safeguards enumerated in Articles 15, 17 and 21 of the Constitution. This serves a twin-fold objective of protecting the members of these vulnerable communities, as well as providing relief and rehabilitation to the victims of caste-based atrocities.

Read hereSC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act: New developments and Evolution

The Act is a recognition of the fact that the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes continue to be subjected to various atrocities at the hands of upper-castes. It was enacted to deter acts of indignity, humiliation and harassment against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Under what circumstances can the proceedings be quashed?

The court can exercise its powers to quash the proceedings under SC/ST law in the following circumstances:

-Where it appears to the court that the offence in question, is primarily private or civil in nature, or
-Where the alleged offence has not been committed on account of the caste of the victim, or
-Where the continuation of the legal proceedings would be an abuse of the process of law.

What should be the way forward?

Undoubtedly, the crimes which hurt the dignity of an individual should not have the provision of allowing a compromise. But if the nature of the dispute is civil and the parties have reached a settlement, courts have taken the right perspective to allow the case to be quashed.

Source: This post is based on the article “Can quash SC/ST Act cases if ‘civil’ offence: Top Court” published in the Indian Express on 26th October 2021.

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