Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India (2020)

    Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India – Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 – Section 18A

    Case in the Supreme Court of India
    Case No. – WP(C) 1015/2018
    Date of Final Judgement – 10 February, 2020
    Petitioner– Prithvi Raj Chauhan, Priya Sharma, Sandeep Lamba, India For Rule of Law Foundation.
    Respondent– Union of India

    OVERVIEW: Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India

    The Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutional validity of the Section 18A brought about through an amendment in 2018 to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. It held that a court can only grant anticipatory bail in cases where a prima facie case is made out.

    Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India| Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989| Section 18A

    FACTS

    In 2018, The parliament of India introduced an amendment to the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. This section known as 18A directly nullified the judgement of the Supreme Court in its Kashinath Mahajan judgement and undid all the safeguards introduced by it to prevent the misuse of the said act. The three safeguards were as follows:

    • A preliminary enquiry could be conducted to determine whether the complaint makes a valid and non-frivolous case to avoid the rising number of fake and motivated cases.
    • The investigating officer needed a prior approval (of the appointing authority when arresting a public servant and that of the S.S.P when arresting a non-public servant) before going forward with the arrest.
    • Grant of anticipatory bail was allowed where a case is not prima facie established.

    These safeguards were introduced to curb the rising number of false cases and uphold the principles of equality along with the freedom to life and liberty guaranteed by Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. It was a way to ensure that the people accused under the said Act are not denied due process established by law by being presumed guilty.

    The judgement pushed open the way to numerous violent protests and outcry organized by Dalits and Adivasi groups throughout the country. All of this led to numerous deaths completely putting the peace of the Nation in jeopardy. The violent outburst didn’t go unnoticed and The Parliament without even waiting for the Supreme Court to hear a review petition challenging its judgement pushed through with the Amendment by introducing the infamous Section 18A to the mix.

    Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India| Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989| Section 18A

    On being asked to respond, The Central Government filed an Affidavit stating its competency regarding the introduction of an amendment along with stating its ground regarding how an increased number of acquittals in cases filed under the POA Act cannot form the basis for assuming that a majority of such cases are fake.

    Several petitions were filed after the amendment which led the court to club all of them along with the review petitions challenging Kashinath Mahajan judgement on 24th January, 2019. On 13th September, the review petition was referred by the division bench comprising UU Lalit and Arun Mishra to a three-judge bench comprising Justice Arun Mishra, MR Shah and BR Gavai stating the importance of the matter.

    JUDGEMENT

    The major issue with the introduction of Section 18A was the absolute bar on any sort of a preliminary enquiry before filing of an FIR by stating that Section 438 of CrPC (which provides for anticipatory bail) would not apply to any offence committed under the SC-ST Act.

    On 10th February, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Parliament’s 2018 Amendment to the POA Act by partially setting aside the safeguards introduced by the Kashinath case. Two opinions were put forward by the bench in which the majority judgement was pronounced by Justice Arun Mishra on behalf of himself and Justice Vineet Saran.

    • He clearly pronounced that the Kashinath directions unfairly placed an additional burden on SC/ST people who have already faced discrimination or suffered caste-based atrocities along with unequal treatment.
    • He stated that the power related to law-making is exclusively reserved for the legislature and not the judiciary. The directions were issued under Court’s extraordinary powers under Article 142 which is exercised in situations where exists a lack of clarity in existing provisions of any legislation or when there exists a legislative vacuum which wasn’t the case at all in the present scenario.
    • He also pointed how the decision was impractical.
    • He clarified a few narrow exceptions that exist to the Amendment and stated that some portions of the Kashinath verdict “were against the concept of protective discrimination in favor of downtrodden classes under Article 15(4) of the constitution and also impermissible within the parameters laid down by this court for exercise of powers under Article 142 of the Constitution of India”.
    • The court also held that Section 438 of CrPC will not apply to cases under this Act of 1989 unless a prima facie case for applicability of the provisions are attracted. Anticipatory bail can be granted by the court in exceptional cases in accordance with the above stated view.

    CONCURRING JUDGEMENT

    Justice Ravindra Bhat agreed with the majority judgment but also gave his separate concurring judgement by adding a caveat on anticipatory bail. He specified that the use of anticipatory bail provision has to be done very prudently and mostly in exceptional cases otherwise the whole idea behind the Amendment will be defeated. He also pointed out how the Act has been underused by noting that only around 40,000 cases were reported in the year 2016. He concluded by saying that any additional safeguard like the ones in Kashinath case will further discourage the victims from speaking about the atrocities faced by them on a regular.

    He put the act within the framework of ‘fraternity’ by observing that the provisions of Article 15 and 17 aims to achieve ‘the ideal of fraternity’. He relied on the Ragunathrao Ganpatrao case by calling fraternity an essential for a segmented nation “like ours with so many disruptive forces of regionalism, communalism and linguism”. It gives us all a promise of oneness and its concept needs to be used more often along with equality and liberty.

    He concluded his judgment with a poignant question that, “can the prevailing situation of exclusion based on caste identity be allowed to persist in a democracy which is committed to equality and the rule of law? If so, till when? And, most importantly, what each one of us can do to foster this feeling of fraternity amongst all sections of the community without reducing the concept (of the fraternity) to a ritualistic formality, a tacit acknowledgement, of the “otherness” of each one’s identity.”

    Prathvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India, Section 18A, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989