The Supreme Court of India says that the Court can quash proceedings in SC ST Act where offences are civil in nature

Share on:

The bench delivered this while quashing a case against a resident of Madhya Pradesh, who was convicted for using casteist slurs against his neighbor — a Scheduled Caste woman — with whom he had a property dispute. The Supreme Court recently invoked “extraordinary powers” vested in it under Article 142 of the Constitution or Section 482 of CrPC to quash proceedings against a man convicted under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The case, dating back to 1994, pertained to a clash between two neighbors – Ramawatar and Prembai – over a land dispute in the Panna district of Madhya Pradesh. In the heat of the moment, Ramawatar had thrown a brick at Prembai and used casteist slurs and derogatory remarks at her. Prembai, who hails from the Prajapati community, categorised as a scheduled caste in the state, filed a case against Ramawatar under the SC/ST Act. A lower court sentenced the accused to six months of rigorous imprisonment while imposing a fine of ₹1,000 on him. Ramawatar had challenged his conviction, but the Jabalpur Bench of the Madhya Pradesh High Court quashed it on August 2, 2010, following which he moved to the Supreme Court.  He told the court that a compromise has been worked out between the two parties and that Prembai has even filed an application for compromise. He also assured the court that there is no existing enmity between the two parties who live in the same village. Using its extraordinary powers, a bench headed by Chief Justice NV Ramana and comprising of justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli, dropped criminal proceedings against Ramawatar, taking into consideration the compromise arrived between the two parties and to “avoid the revival of healed wounds, and to advance peace and harmony”. Justice Surya Kant said that “Ordinarily when dealing with offences arising out of special statutes such as the SC/ST Act, the court will be extremely circumspect in its approach. The SC/ST Act has been specifically enacted to deter acts of indignity, humiliation, and harassment against members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The Act is also a recognition of the depressing reality that despite undertaking several measures, the Scheduled Castes/ Scheduled Tribes continue to be subjected to various atrocities at the hands of upper-castes. The courts have to be mindful of the fact that the Act has been enacted keeping in view the express constitutional safeguards enumerated in Articles 15, 17, and 21 of the Constitution, with a twin-fold objective of protecting the members of these vulnerable communities as well as to provide relief and rehabilitation to the victims of caste-based atrocities”. The bench took into account that both accused and victim belong to the same social and economic strata and noted that the accused was not a repeat offender as there has been no other dispute involving the accused post the incident 27 years ago. The bench finally observed that "It appears to us that although the appellant may not belong to the same caste as the complainant, he too belongs to the relatively weaker/backward section of the society and is certainly not in any better economic or social position when compared to the victim".