SC/ST verdict: Supreme Court says Article 21 has to be read into every provision of law
SC on its March ruling on preventing automatic arrests under the SC/ST Act, says that without any scrutiny and on a one-sided basis a person’s liberty could not be taken away
New Delhi: Explaining the reason for its March ruling preventing automatic arrests on complaints filed under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (SC/ST Act), the Supreme Court observed that no Parliament could allow arrest without a fair procedure.
“Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) has to be read into every provision of law; that’s implicit and that is what the court has done. That’s the mandate. The right cannot be denied even by Parliament. We are not living in a civilized society if a person can be simply arrested without reasonableness,” justice A.K. Goel said.
He added that without any scrutiny a person’s liberty could not be taken away.
Attorney general K.K. Venugopal, agreeing that the right to life under the Constitution included the right to live with dignity, said that its application was impossible in a welfare and developing country.
“How would that justify denial of basic rights to people living on the footpath? What about their dignity?” he remarked.
On 3 May, justice U.U. Lalit clarified that the judgement did not say that there should be no registration of crime against complaints by SC/ST members but there should be a filter placed on the arrests following the complaints to ensure that there is a need to arrest the person in question.
A similar clarification had been given by justice A.K. Goel at an earlier hearing, where he said that the court was not trying to stand in the way of the rights of members of the SCs and STs and was concentrating on preventing the implication of an innocent person.
The court was hearing the centre’s review petition on the March ruling, which was greeted with anger and streets protests.
The government’s decision to approach the court in a review petition came after the top court’s order passed in March raised concerns over a possible dilution of the law meant to protect marginalised sections of society.
The centre sought a review of the judgement, saying it was vitiated by the fact that the court had proceeded on the basis that it can legislate and has the power to make law when none exists.
It is also the centre’s stand that any dilution of the provisions of the amended SC/ST Act would result in depriving the community of its constitutional rights.
On 20 March, a bench of justices Lalit and Goel held a public servant could be arrested only after the approval of the appointing authority and a non-public servant only after the approval of the senior superintendent of police, if considered necessary, for reasons recorded.
The ruling triggered protests by Dalit groups across the country, with sporadic violence during a Bharat Bandh on 2 April.