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Landmark SC Judgment on SC and ST prevention of Atrocities Act

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

Criminal Appeal No. 416 of 2018 (Arising out of Special Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 5661 of 2017)

Decided On: 20.03.2018

Subhash Kashinath Mahajan
Vs.
The State of Maharashtra and Ors.

Hon’ble Judges/Coram:
A.K. Goel and U.U. Lalit, JJ.
Citation:AIR 2018 SC 1498

Criminal – False Implication – Article 21 of Constitution of India – Present appeal filed against order wherein High Court rejected Appellants appeal of quashing proceedings against him – Whether directions be issued to protect fundamental right under Article 21 of Constitution against false implication and arrests

Facts:

The Appellant was serving as Director of Technical Education. The second Respondent was an employee of the department. Dr. Satish Bhise and Dr. Kishor Burade, who were his seniors made adverse entry in his annual confidential report that his integrity and character was not good. The second Respondent lodged FIR against the said two officers under the Atrocities Act. The Investigating Officer applied for sanction against them to the Director of Technical Education which was refused by the Appellant. Because of this, ‘C’ Summary Report was filed against Bhise and Burade which was not accepted by the Court. Aggrieved by a complainant was filed against the Appellant stating that he was not competent to grant/refuse sanction as the above two persons were Class-I officers and only the State Government could grant sanction. The Appellant filed a petition to the High Court for quashing the proceedings which was rejected. Hence, present appeal was filed.

Held, while allowing appeal:

(i) There could be no dispute with the proposition that mere unilateral allegation by any individual belonging to any caste, when such allegation was clearly motivated and false, could not be treated as enough to deprive a person of his liberty without an independent scrutiny. Thus, exclusion of provision for anticipatory bail could not possibly, by any reasonable interpretation, be treated as applicable when no case was made out or allegations were patently false or motivated. If this interpretation was not taken, it might be difficult for public servants to discharge their bona fide functions and, in given cases, they could be black mailed with the threat of a false case being registered under the Atrocities Act, without any protection of law. This could not be the scenario in a civilized society. Similarly, even a non public servant could be black mailed to surrender his civil rights. This was not the intention of law. Such law could not stand judicial scrutiny. It would fall foul of guaranteed fundamental rights of fair and reasonable procedure being followed if a person was deprived of life and liberty. [59 ]

(ii) Innocent citizens are termed as accused, which was not intended by the legislature. The legislature never intended to use the Atrocities Act as an instrument to blackmail or to wreak personal vengeance. The Act was also not intended to deter public servants from performing their bona fide duties. Thus, unless exclusion of anticipatory bail is limited to genuine cases and inapplicable to cases where there was no prima facie case was made out, there would be no protection available to innocent citizens. Thus, limiting the exclusion of anticipatory bail in such cases was essential for protection of fundamental right of life and liberty Under Article 21 of the Constitution. [67 ]

(iii) The Present Court had no hesitation in holding that exclusion of provision for anticipatory bail would not apply when no prima facie case was made out or the case is patently false or mala fide. This may have to be determined by the Court concerned in facts and circumstances of each case in exercise of its judicial discretion. In doing so, the present Court was reiterating a well established principle of law that protection of innocent 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. [68 ]

(iv) The under privileged need to be protected against any atrocities to give effect to the Constitutional ideals. The Atrocities Act has been enacted with this objective. At the same time, the said Act 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. 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. [75]

Our conclusions are as follows:

i) Proceedings in the present case are clear abuse of process of court and are quashed.

ii) 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. We approve the view taken and approach of the Gujarat High Court in Pankaj D Suthar (supra) and Dr. N.T. Desai (supra) and clarify the judgments of this Court in Balothia (supra) and Manju Dew (supra);

iii) In view of 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 S.S.P. which may be granted in appropriate cases if considered necessary for reasons recorded. Such reasons must be scrutinized by the Magistrate for permitting further detention.

iv) To avoid false implication of an innocent, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the DSP concerned to find out whether the allegations make out a case under the Atrocities Act and that the allegations are not frivolous or motivated.

v) Any violation of direction (iii) and (iv) will be actionable by way of disciplinary action as well as contempt.

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