The Supreme Court on Thursday said that an offence under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is not made out on the fact that the complainant is a member of SC or ST. A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi said: "All insults or intimidations to a person will not be an offence under the Act unless such insult or intimidation is on account of victim belonging to Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe."
The bench emphasised that the object of the Act is to improve the socio-economic conditions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes as they are denied a number of civil rights.
"Thus, an offence under the Act would be made out when a member of the vulnerable section of the society is subjected to indignities, humiliations and harassment," added the bench.
The top court said that it is essential to establish that there is an intention to humiliate the victim because he belongs to such a caste.
The bench cited that another key ingredient of the provision, under Section 3 (1) (r), is that the insult or intimidation was done in "any place within public view".
The judgment came on an appeal against a Uttarakhand High Court order, which dismissed a plea filed by one Hitesh Verma under Section 482 of the CrPC seeking quashing of a chargesheet and summoning order against him for an offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST Act. An FIR was filed against him for entering the house of the respondent and hurling casteist abuses.
The bench noted that as per the FIR, the allegations of abuse were within the four walls of the building and there was no member of the public (not merely relatives or friends) at the time of the incident in the house.
"Therefore, the basic ingredient that the words were uttered 'in any place within public view' is not made out," said the top court.
The bench noted that the offence under the Act is not established merely on the fact that the informant is a member of Scheduled Caste unless there is an intention to humiliate a member of Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe for the reason that the victim belongs to such a caste.
The top court quashed the chargesheet to the extent of offence under the special law against petitioner Hemant Verma and others.
"In the present case, the parties are litigating over possession of the land. The allegation of hurling abuses is against a person who claims title over the property. If such a person happens to be a Scheduled Caste, the offence under Section 3(1)(r) of the Act is not made out," the court said.
The bench observed that the Act is intended to punish the acts of the upper caste against the vulnerable sections of the society for the reason that they belong to a particular community.