To give effect to the Article 17 of the Indian Constitution – Abolition of Untouchability, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was enacted. The act aims at preventing atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. It intends to free Indian society from blind and irrational adherence to traditional beliefs and to establish a bias free society. It was made operational with the ostensible objective to remove humiliation and multifaceted harassments meted to the Dalits and to ensure their fundamental and socio-economic, political, and cultural rights. The Act is popularly known as POA, the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act.
As ‘police’ and ‘public order’ are state subjects, primary responsibility for prevention of atrocities and maintenance of law and order rests with the State Governments
Definition of atrocity under the Act:
- The term ‘atrocity’ was not defined until this Act was passed by the Parliament in 1989
- Atrocity is “an expression commonly used to refer to crimes against Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) in India”.
- It implies “any offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) committed against SCs by non-SC persons, or against STs by non-ST persons. Caste consideration as a motive is not necessary to make such an offence in case of atrocity”
Amendment to the Act in 2015:
Amendments were made to the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 in 2015. The amendments include:
- New offences of atrocities like tonsuring of head, moustache, or similar acts which are derogatory to the dignity of members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, garlanding with chappals, denying access to irrigation facilities or forest rights , dispose or carry human or animal carcasses, or to dig graves, using or permitting manual scavenging, dedicating a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe women as devadasi, abusing in caste name, perpetrating witchcraft atrocities, imposing social or economic boycott
- Establishment of Exclusive Special Courts and specification of Exclusive Special Public Prosecutors also, to exclusively try the offences under the PoA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases.
- Power of Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts, to take direct cognizance of offence and as far as possible, completion of trial of the case within two months, from the date of filing of the charge sheet.
- Addition of presumption to the offences –If the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.
The Supreme Court had on March 20 diluted stringent provisions mandating immediate arrest under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities (POA) Act.
It had taken note of the rampant misuse of the stringent Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act against government servants and held that there shall be no immediate arrest on any complaint filed under the law.
It had passed a slew of directions and said a public servant can be arrested in cases lodged under the SC/ST Act only after prior approval by the competent authority.