New Delhi: The Supreme Court Thursday said it would not "dilute" the provisions of the SC/ST Act, 1989 and made it clear that its Constitution bench had already held that anticipatory bail could be granted in such matter if the courts feel that no prima facie case is made out.
The apex court reserved its verdict on the petitions challenging the validity of 2018 amendments to The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 that had nullified the directions in its verdict last year on March 20, diluting the provisions of arrest under the law.
A bench headed by Justice Arun Mishra said that the top court had on October 1 recalled the two directions passed last year by its two-judge bench and restored the earlier position of the law.
"We are not diluting these provisions. We are not striking them down. These provisions will stand as it was earlier," said the bench, also comprising justices Vineet Sharan and S Ravindra Bhat.
One of the lawyers appearing in the matter told the bench that high courts have been entertaining petitions seeking quashing of FIRs lodged under the Act.
"We cannot curtail rights under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty). Do not open the pandora box. Individual cases have to be dealt with separately. We are not deciding these things," the bench said.
The top court said it would clarify on the two aspects -- one related to anticipatory bail for offences lodged under the Act and the other regarding provision of holding preliminary enquiry by the police before taking action under the law.
It observed that there cannot be an absolute bar on either grant of anticipatory bail or holding of preliminary enquiry under the Act.
One of the lawyers claimed in the court that police in Uttar Pradesh had not lodged FIRs on complaints filed by some riots victims and instead, cases were registered against them.
"We are not on that. If we will go by individual cases, it would not be good. We should not venture into anything more than the legal issue. We will not pass a long order," the bench said, adding, "Our predecessors (five judge bench) have done everything".
The apex court had in January this year refused to stay the 2018 amendments to the SC/ST Act, which restored the provision that no anticipatory bail be granted to the accused in offence lodged under this law.
In its 2018 verdict, the apex court had taken note of the rampant misuse of the stringent SC/ST Act against government servants and private individuals and said that there would be no immediate arrest on any complaint filed under the law.
Violent protests had taken place across the country after the apex court's verdict in which several persons lost their lives and many were injured.
Parliament on August 9 last year had passed the bill to overturn the apex court March 20, 2018 judgement concerning certain safeguards against arrest under the SC/ST law.
Later, the Centre had filed a petition in the top court seeking review of its March last year judgement.
On October 1 this year, the apex court restored the earlier position of the law by recalling two directions in the March last year verdict, which provided no absolute bar on grant of anticipatory bail and prior inquiry before effecting arrest of public servant and private individual under the Act.
The pleas filed in the top court have sought to declare the 2018 amendments to the Act as ultra vires.
The pleas have claimed that Parliament had "arbitrarily" decided to amend the law and restored the previous provisions in such a manner so that an innocent cannot avail the right of anticipatory bail.
The 2018 amendments rule out any provision for anticipatory bail for a person accused of atrocities against SC/STs, notwithstanding any court order.
They provide that no preliminary inquiry would be required for registering a criminal case and an arrest under this law would not be subject to any approval.