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Attorney general K K Venugopal said the verdict was such that he was constrained to use harsh words and protested against the “tampering” of the constitutional scheme of separation of powers. The bench, however, remained unmoved. The arguments will continue on May 16.
Making a strong pitch, Venugopal said, “Our Constitution provides for separation of power between legislature, executive and judiciary. But the SC, in this case, stepped into the legislative domain by introducing a preliminary enquiry when the law mandated registration of FIR and providing for anticipatory bail which was absent in the act. In addition, the bench provided that if the DSP registered an FIR without conducting a preliminary enquiry, then s/he could be liable for contempt.”
“The judgment has completely shaken the country. Rightly or wrongly, people are so agitated that it led to eight deaths. Those who have been oppressed for thousands of years have a feeling that dilution of the arrest provision in the SC/ST Act amounted to protecting the accused.” However, a bench of Justices Adarsh K Goel and U U Lalit contested the suggestion that through their March 20 order, they had dismantled the law which was conceived as a deterrent against atrocities on SC/STs.
“We never suggested that the guilty should go scot-free. We have clarified that if there is any violent act by the accused, coupled with the offence under the SC/ST Act, the police can straightaway arrest without conducting a preliminary enquiry or taking sanction from a higher authority. We never suggested any particular line of action. What we said was protect the innocent from harassment through a frivolous complaint. Can the Supreme Court not protect the liberty and right to life of an innocent by safeguarding his/her arrest by laying down guidelines? We have not changed the provisions of the law at all,” the bench said.
“We find that anti-terror laws have no provision of bail. Those are different kinds of offences. In the SC/ST Act, the legislature said no anticipatory bail but permitted an accused to seek regular bail from court. What does the legislature seek to achieve? Does it want to instil the fear of arrest or something else? Arrest should not be so easy. That is why we put a filter of preliminary enquiry, that let there be some application of mind before arresting a person under the SC/ST Act,” the bench said, quashing the hope that it might suspend operation of the judgment which had sparked largescale violent protests in many parts of the country on April 2.
Venugopal also questioned the SC directive that before registering an FIR, police have to take sanction from the appointing authority if the accused was a public servant, or the senior superintendent of police if s/he was a private person.