Telangana HC | Is the power to take cognizance of an offence under SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 vested with Magistrate or is there a Special Court for the purpose? Court answers in light of SC decisions

Telangana High Court: P. Naveen Rao, J., discussed and reiterated the scope of The Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 extensively.

“As against the procedure envisaged in the Code of Criminal Procedure, where power is vested in the Magistrate, to monitor investigation of a crime under the Act, 1989 and take cognizance of the crime, the power is now vested in the Special Court.”

Illegal Intimacy

First petitioner submitted that second petitioner is her daughter and her marriage was performed in the year 2017. After 4 months of their marriage, the husband of the second petitioner developed illegal intimacy with another woman who is stated to be the daughter of the sixth respondent and were living under one roof.

The husband of petitioner 2 started harassing her. Later in the panchayat held by the elders, there was an understanding that Shivakumar would lead marital life with the second petitioner by leaving the daughter of respondent 6.

Even after the above-held panchayat, the illegal relationship of Shivakumar and daughter of respondent 6 continued.

Based on the above complaint, a crime was registered under Sections 498-A and 497 IPC. Sixth respondent’s daughter gave an assurance in front of the police that she would not interfere in marital life of second petitioner and requested the petitioners to withdraw the case.

Later, even after the settlement, the illegal relationship continued and this time, the respondent filed a complaint alleging that petitioners abused them in filthy language and on caste lines.

Complaint under Section 34 IPC and Sections 3(1)(r)(s), 3 (2) (va) of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Petitioners have now alleged that taking advantage of the registration of crime, sixth respondent and his daughter threatened the petitioners and were forcing the second petitioner to give divorce to her husband.

Petitioners contended that the police has not been following the procedure and requires the Court to direct the fourth respondent to follow the Supreme Court decision in Arnesh Kumar v. State of Bihar, (2014) 8 SCC 273.

Scope of Power of Police

On the issue of the scope of power of police to conduct an investigation, the arrest of accused, grant of bail, and the role of Constitutional Courts in such matters was extensively considered by the Hon’ble Supreme Court in State of Haryana v. Bhajan Lal, 1992 Supp (1) SCC 335.

Further, the Bench expressed that it is a settled principle of law that once a cognizable crime is reported, police have to register the crime and investigate into the crime. Such an investigation has to be taken up immediately, collect the evidence and then take steps to finalize the investigation and file the final report.

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

The scope of provisions of the Act, 1989 came up for consideration before the Supreme Court in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra,(2018) 6 SCC 454. The Supreme Court held that merely because a crime is reported under the Act, 1989, it need not be registered automatically and to avoid false implication of an innocent person, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted by the Deputy Superintendent of Police concerned to find out whether allegations in the complaint made out a case to proceed under the Atrocities Act, and that the person need not be arrested.

In Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, (2020) 4 SCC 761, Supreme Court reviewed the directions issued in Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, (2018) 6 SCC 454.

Further, after extensively referring to the view taken by the Supreme Court in Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, (2020) 4 SCC 761, Supreme Court observed in Prithvi Raj Chauhan v. Union of India, (2020) 4 SCC 727:

“9. Concerning the provisions contained in Section 18-A, suffice it to observe that with respect to preliminary inquiry for registration of FIR, we have already recalled the general Directions 79.3 and 79.4 issued in Subhash Kashinath case [Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, (2018) 6 SCC 454 : (2018) 3 SCC (Cri) 124]. A preliminary inquiry is permissible only in the circumstances as per the law laid down by a Constitution Bench of this Court in Lalita Kumari v. State of U.P. [Lalita Kumari v. State of U.P., (2014) 2 SCC 1 : (2014) 1 SCC (Cri) 524], shall hold good as explained in the order passed by this Court in the review petitions on 1-10-2019 [Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, (2020) 4 SCC 761] and the amended provisions of Section 18-A have to be interpreted accordingly.

10. Section 18-A(i) was inserted owing to the decision of this Court in Subhash Kashinath [Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, (2018) 6 SCC 454 : (2018) 3 SCC (Cri) 124], which made it necessary to obtain the approval of the appointing authority concerning a public servant and the SSP in the case of arrest of accused persons. This Court has also recalled that direction on Review Petition (Crl.) No. 228 of 2018 decided on 1-10-2019 [Union of India v. State of Maharashtra, (2020) 4 SCC 761] . Thus, the provisions which have been made in Section 18-A are rendered of academic use as they were enacted to take care of mandate issued in Subhash Kashinath [Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. State of Maharashtra, (2018) 6 SCC 454 : (2018) 3 SCC (Cri) 124] which no more prevails. The provisions were already in Section 18 of the Act with respect to anticipatory bail.”

Therefore, in light of the above discussion, bench dismissed the petition. [Sattarsetti Nirmala v. State of Telangana, WP No. 141 of 2021, decided on 06-01-2021]

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