In a bid to protect honest public servants discharging bonafide duties from being blackmailed with false cases under the SC/ST Act, the Supreme Court today diluted its stringent provisions mandating immediate arrest under the law.
The top court said that on "several occasions", innocent citizens were being termed as accused and public servants deterred from performing their duties, which was never the intention of the legislature while enacting the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
A bench of Justices Adarsh Goel and U U Lalit said unless the exclusion of anticipatory bail is limited to "genuine cases and inapplicable to cases where there is no prima facie case was made out, there will be no protection available to innocent citizens".
"There is no absolute bar against grant of anticipatory bail in cases under the Atrocities Act if no prima facie case is made out or where, on judicial scrutiny, the complaint is found to be prima facie mala fide," the bench held.
It said that "in view of the acknowledged abuse of law of arrest in cases under the Atrocities Act, arrest of a public servant can only be after approval of the appointing authority and of a non-public servant after approval by the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded."
It also said that the reasons recorded must be scrutinised by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.
The bench said that exclusion of provision for anticipatory bail will not apply when no prima facie case is made out or the case is patently false or mala fide which may be determined by the court concerned in facts and circumstances of each case.
"In doing so, we are reiterating a well established principle of law that protection of innocents against abuse of law is part of inherent jurisdiction of the Court, being part of access to justice and protection of liberty against any oppressive action such as mala fide arrest," it said.
The top court said that in doing so, it was not "diluting the efficacy of Section 18 of SC/ST Act in deserving cases where Court finds a case to be prima facie genuine warranting custodial interrogation and pre-trial arrest and detention".
Section 18 of the Act bars grant of anticipatory bail to person booked under the provisions of the law.
Providing additional safeguards from arrest and false implications, the top court said the law "cannot be converted into a charter for exploitation or oppression by any unscrupulous person or by police for extraneous reasons against other citizens, as has been found on several occasions".
It said, "any harassment of an innocent citizen, irrespective of caste or religion, is against the guarantee of the Constitution. This Court must enforce such a guarantee. Law should not result in caste hatred. The preamble to the Constitution, which is the guiding star for interpretation, incorporates the values of liberty, equality and fraternity".
To avoid false implication of an innocent, the top court directed that a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP rank officer to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and whether the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.
Warning that if the directions given by the court are not followed, it would warrant disciplinary action as well as contempt, the top court directed that its order will have prospective effect.
The major ruling came on a plea of one Dr. Subhash Kashinath Mahajan, who, while serving as the Director of Technical Education in Maharashtra government, was accused of refusing prosecution sanction against two senior officers of the department accused under SC/ST Act by one store keeper.
Mahajan challenged the order of May 5, 2017, of the Bombay High Court which had refused to grant him anticipatory bail in the case and quash the FIR.