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Apex Court stands firm

Apex Court stands firm
The Supreme Court on Tuesday refused to stay its March 20 order in which it had issued a set of guidelines including the prevention of immediate arrest and automatic filing of FIR in the case of a crime against the SCs/STs. Monday's Bharat Bandh was organised against these very guidelines under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. At least 17 people have died in Monday's violence that threw life out of gear in 12 states in the country. The Centre had requested the Supreme Court to stay the new guidelines in view of the widespread violence and riots. But the court said that those protesting have not read the court's ruling. The court said that it is concerned about the innocent people who are lodged in different jails and it is not concerned with what is happening outside the court. The court has also asked all the agitating parties to file their pleas within three days while the court will hear the matter within the next 10 days. The court also said that it would hear only the government's review petition. The court's rigid stance on its March 20 verdict on SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocity) Act has left few options with the government, which has already filed a review petition in the Supreme Court. Now, the government must be mulling the option to override the SC verdict with a new law enacted in the Parliament. The Dalit protests on Monday and the large-scale violence that marked the protests have made the political parties cautious and no one wants to further antagonise SC/ST communities. The Bahujan Samaj Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal and Congress have openly supported the agitation on what they called the dilution of the SC/ST Act. Even though the Dalit agitation caused maximum damage in the BJP-ruled states, the government at the Centre cannot afford to antagonise the SC/ST communities in a politically significant year when a number of elections are lined up leading up to the general elections next year. Meanwhile, the court said that it is not against the SC/ST Act but it needs to ensure that innocent people are not punished. Why then does the government want to arrest people without conducting even an investigation? If we doubt the government officials, how will they work, the court asked. With the SC/ST Act, it is difficult to prove the allegations. That is why the court has come out with the guidelines. Talking about the need to offer immediate compensation to the victims, the court said that if the victim is extremely needy, the district magistrate can provide compensation even before an FIR is lodged. As per the guidelines, it has given seven days time to conduct primary investigations into the allegation. The seven days given to complete the investigation is the maximum time. The investigation can be completed in a day or even in less time, the court observed. The court has provided for completing the primary investigation within seven days so that the evidence can be collected in line with the allegations. The biggest drawback in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is that it has no provision for an anticipatory bail. Bail is the right of the accused. If we send someone to jail and after that, we find out that he was innocent, we cannot compensate the accused, the court said. The data shows that the law is often misused. Is it alright to send an innocent to jail without giving them a hearing? If it happens to a government employee, how will he work, the court asked. The law provides for punishment; arrest is not necessary. This is the only law that does not provide a legal remedy to anyone. Immediately after registering the case, the accused is sent to jail. The court said it cannot give the right to take away someone's freedom just by accusing him. Even CrPC says that before the arrest, an investigation should be carried out. The law may have been derived from the Act but the procedure has to be that of the CrPC. The court's guidelines will have no influence on the investigation, trial or any legal process of a case under the SC/ST Act. The right to arrest an accused comes from the CrPC and not from the SC/ST Act. The court said that it has explained only the procedural aspect of the law and not the law itself. The court further said that it does not want trouble. In its March 20 ruling, the Supreme Court had asked for the verification of complaints lodged under the SC/ST Act. But, this is not applicable in the cases of murder and similar heinous crimes.
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