The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

  • The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 – also known as the SC/ST Act, the Prevention of Atrocities Act, or simply the Atrocities Act – is an Act of the Parliament of India enacted to prevent atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
  • Article 17 of Indian Constitution seeks to abolish untouchability and to forbid all such practices. In 1955, the Untouchability (Offences) Act was enacted. However, lacunae and loopholes impelled the government to revamp the Act as the Protection of Civil Rights Act in 1976.
  • The Parliament recognising the continuing gross indignities and offences against Scheduled Castes and Tribes, passed the ‘Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’ in 1989 and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules in 1995.
  • Thus objectives of the Act is to deliver justice to these communities through proactive efforts to enable them to live in society with dignity and self-esteem and without fear or violence or suppression from the dominant castes or help the social inclusion of Dalits into Indian society. The practice of untouchability, in its overt and covert form was made a cognizable and non-compoundable offence, and strict punishment is provided for any such offence.
Salient Features:
  • Creation of new types of offences not in the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or in the Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 (PCRA).
  • Commission of offences only by specified persons (by non-SCs on SCs and non-STs on STs).
  • Defines various types of atrocities against SCs/STs and prescribes stringent punishment for such atrocities
  • Enhanced punishment for some offences
  • Enhanced minimum punishment for public servants
  • Punishment for neglect of duties by a public servant
  • Attachment and forfeiture of property
  • Creation of Special Courts
  • Appointment of Special Public Prosecutors
  • Empowers the government to impose collective fines
  • Cancellation of arms licenses in the areas identified where an atrocity may take place or has taken place and seize all illegal fire arms.
  • Grant arms licenses to SCs and STs.
  • Denial of anticipatory bail.
  • Denial of probation to convict
  • Provides compensation, relief and rehabilitation for victims of atrocities or their legal heirs.
  • Identification of atrocity prone areas.
  • Setting up deterrents to avoid committing of atrocities on the SCs amongst others.
  • Setting up a mandatory, periodic monitoring system at different levels – District, State and National Level
  • It also provided a framework for monitoring the state response to the atrocities against SCs and STs.
    • According to the Act and Rules, there are to be monthly reports (from the District Magistrates), quarterly review meetings at the district level by the District Monitoring and Vigilance Committee (DVMC) and half yearly reviews by a State Monitoring and Vigilance Committee (SVMC) the chaired by the Chief Minister.
    • The performance of every Special Public Prosecutor (SPP) will also have to be reviewed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) every quarter.
    • Annual reports have to be sent to the Central government by 31 March every year.
  • The term atrocity was not defined until this Act was passed by the Parliament in 1989.
  • Atrocity is an expression commonly used to refer to crimes against SCs and STs in India. It implies – any offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) committed against SCs and STs by non-SC and non ST persons. Caste consideration as a motive is not necessary to make such an offence in case of atrocity.
  • Investigation of an offence committed under the SC/ST Act cannot be investigated by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).
  • 23 States have set up SC/ST Protection Cells – Nodal Officers have been appointed in 28 States. Legal aid is available for all victims regardless of financial status.
Drawbacks and lacunae
  • Going through the Indian judicial system is degrading for any Dalit because of the still existing biases of the court judges.
  • Also, there is little done to prevent atrocities. Most of the reports are of what is done after an atrocity has been committed. Few states have preventive measures in place.
  • High rate of rejection is also prevalent at the police station level.
Legal system
  • High rate of acquittal in courts.
  • The absence of adequate special courts (most special courts are actually courts that are designated as Special Courts – which means that they cater to cases other than this Act also) has resulted in slow disposal of atrocity cases and a huge backlog.
  • The Act failed to deal with rehabilitation as there are no provision addressing the same. The problem is that the victims of atrocities suffer not only bodily and mental pain but also feelings of insecurity and social avoidance which is not present for the victims of other crimes and hence there should be special provision for their rehabilitation.
  • Victims of atrocities and their families should be provided with full financial and any other support to make them economically self-reliant without their having to seek wage employment from their very oppressors or classes of oppressors.
Lack of awareness
  • The majority of the beneficiaries of this Act are unaware of the legitimate claims of leading a dignified way of life.
  • Sometimes even the police, prosecutors and judicial officers are unaware of this Act or misapply it aggravating the problem.
Some atrocities not covered
  • Sometimes the crime is engineered in such ways so that the crimes do not come under the definition of the atrocities under the Act like – blackmailing a few SC/STs to execute the crime against other SC/STs.
  • So, the Act should be suitably amended to bring such crimes and atrocities within the purview of the definition of atrocities under the Act.
Dalits in other religions not covered
  • This Act is applicable only for those communities that are in the government Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe lists.
  • Those who suffer from caste based discrimination (CBD) but are left out of the government list i.e. the Dalits who have converted do not come under its purview.
SCs and STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014
  • The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha on 4th August, 2015 with the following key features –
    • Addition of new category of offences to the existing 19 punishable offences.
    • Addition of IPC offences committed which are common (kidnapping, intimidation etc) in addition to the offences attracting punishment of 10 years or more committed against Dalits or Adivasis are added to the punishable offences under the POA Act.
    • Establishment of Exclusive Special Courts and Special Public Prosecutors to exclusively try the offences falling under the POA Act to enable speedy and expeditious disposal of cases.
    • Power of Exclusive Courts to take cognizance of offence and completion of trial in 2 months.
    • Addition of chapter on the ‘Rights of Victims and Witnesses’.
    • Defining clearly the term ‘wilful negligence’ of public servants at all levels, starting from the registration of complaint, and covering aspects of dereliction of duty under this Act.
    • Addition of presumption to the offences. If the accused was acquainted with the victim or his family, the court will presume that the accused was aware of the caste or tribal identity of the victim unless proved otherwise.
SC Verdict to stop immediate arrests:
In an attempt to curb the misuse of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989) and protect honest public servants Supreme Court gave following verdict:
  • An arrest is not mandatory under the SC/ST Act, and the automatic arrest has been scrapped.
  • The court further directed that public servants can only be arrested with the written permission of their appointing authority. This was to protect public servants and private employees from arbitrary arrests under the Atrocities Act
  • Supreme Court also ruled that before arresting a public servant under the Act, a preliminary investigation by an officer not below the rank of deputy superintendent is a must



Amendments being proposed by government:
The Centre has decided to introduce a Bill to restore the original provisions of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, which the Supreme Court had struck down in a March ruling.
Government seeks to insert three new clauses after Section 18 of the original Act.
  • Preliminary enquiry shall not be required for registration of a First Information Report against any person.
  • The arrest of a person accused of having committed an offence under the Act would not require any approval.
  • The provisions of Section 438 of the Code of Criminal Procedure — which deals with anticipatory bail — shall not apply to a case under this Act, “notwithstanding any judgment or order of any Court.”

1 thought on “The Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989”

  1. Anshika Malhotra

    The site should be made more attractive and binding so that the student doesn’t get bore because with so many things to study, it would be better if the student can find the colours of life in his/her own world of big words and knowledge 🙂

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