Kerala High Court: A Division Bench of S. Manikumar and Shaji P. Chaly, JJ., while deciding the Constitutional validity of the Kerala State Commission for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act, 2007, dismissed the writ petition making significant observations.
Aggrieved by the inaction on the part of the respondents in honouring a claim made by the petitioner for reimbursement of travel allowances which he had to incur in connection with the hearings before the State Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Commission at Thiruvananthapuram, instant writ petition for the issuance of mandamus has been filed against the State Government, Kerala. Further, the petitioner seeks to issue a similar relief against the Subordinate Courts so to implement speedy trial provided under Section 14 of the Atrocities Act by taking up the Atrocity cases and related matters immediately after the custody and bail cases. Furthermore, the writ petition seeks to declare the Kerala State Commission for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act, 2007 and the rules framed thereunder as unconstitutional on the ground of inconsistency and repugnancy with the Central Act.
- Whether the State Government can form rules departing from central rules and thereby, deny rights conferred by the Central Government?
- Whether the State Government can disobey the rules framed by the Central Government for the benefit of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and decline to make provisions in the budgets thereby causing hardship to the poor people?
- Whether the subordinate courts can violate the law to the disadvantage of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes by denying speedy trial though provided in Section 14 of the Act?
The counsel for the petitioners made a submission on the following grounds;
- That the Central Act and the rules framed thereunder are binding on the State Government and it is, therefore, obligatory for them to act in consonance of the same.
- That the rules framed by the State Government do not fall under Rule 11, 12 or 15 of the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, as prescribed by the Central Government.
- That the State Government has failed to comply with the directive laid down under Rule 14, which mandates the State to allocate a certain sum in the Annual State budget for the SC/ST community.
- That the State is incompetent to make any law or enumerate any rule on the said subject, following which, the Kerala State SC/ST Commission Act, 2007 and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995 are liable to be declared as unconstitutional. The petitioners further cited, Barai v. Henry, (1983) 1 SCC 177 and Thirumuruga Hirupananda Variar v. State of Tamil Nadu, (1996) 3 SCC 15.
- That the District Magistrates and other similar officers callously neglected the duties prescribed for providing facilities and for making payments under the Schedule and the rules.
- That the lower courts do not implement speedy trials, as provided under Section 14 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, thereby causing hardship to the victims and witnesses, etc.
The counsel for the respondents submitted as follows;
- That the petitioner has filed complaints before the Kerala State SC/ST Commission seeking Travel Allowance(TA)/Dearance Allowance(DA) claims, including hotel bill, room rent, etc. for payment.
- That as per the Kerala State Commission for the Scheduled Castes and scheduled tribes Act, 2007 and the rules framed thereunder, there is no provision for paying TA or DA to the victims and witnesses who appear before the Commission, for the purpose of enquiry into the complaints. The Commission has no such fund to consider the claim.
- That the Commission is empowered to conduct an enquiry into cases where there are allegations of a miscarriage of justice during investigation and hence, the SC/ST complainants, who register complaints/petition before the State Commission, are not entitled to get TA/DA, when they appear before the Commission under any of the provisions of the Kerala State Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, 2007 and the rules framed thereunder.
- Cases under sections 3(1) and 3(2) of Prevention of Atrocities Act are registered in Police Stations and Special Cells are constituted for that purpose. Further, as mentioned in the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, the District Magistrate, Sub Divisional Magistrate or other Executive Magistrate is the authority, liable for payment of such allowances to the victims of atrocity/dependent in the matter of investigation and trial.
- That even though the Kerala State Commission for Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes has the powers of a civil court, with regard to its function under Section 9, Rule 11 of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Rules, 1995, is not applicable to the Commission.
- That Four Special Courts for the trial of offences under the SC/ST (POA) Act cases, have been established at Manjeri, Mananthavady (Kalpetta), Kottarakkara (Kollam) and Mannarkkad (Palakkad). The work turn-out in the four Special Courts for the trial of offences under SC/ST(POA) Act cases are being monitored on a monthly basis by the Judges holding the administrative charges of the respective districts and necessary directions and guidelines are being issued for the speedy trial and disposal of those cases.
The bench made significant observations with respect to State’s competency to legislate in presence of a central law on the same subject, separation of powers and mutual interaction between the three organs in a democratic setup and instances where the Commission is obligated to make reimbursements. It cited several case laws and observations with respect to the above enumerated hereby;
1. Bhim Singh v. Union of India, (2010) 5 SCC 538;
“While observing that the Constitution does not strictly prohibit overlapping of functions as this is inevitable in the modern parliamentary democracy, the Constitution prohibits exercise of functions of another branch which results in wresting away of the regime of constitutional accountability. Only when accountability is preserved, there will be no violation of principle of separation of powers. Constitution not only requires and mandates that there should be right decisions that govern us, but equal care has to be taken that the right decisions are made by the right body and the institution. This is what gives legitimacy, be it legislation, a policy decision or a court adjudication.”
2. V.K. Naswa v. Home Secretary, Union of India, (2012) 11 SCC 42;
“It is outside the power of judicial review to issue directions to the legislature to enact a law in a particular manner, for the Constitution does not permit the courts to direct and advice the executive in matters of policy. Parliament, as the legislature, exercises this power to enact a law and no outside authority can issue a particular piece of legislation. It is only in exceptional cases where there is a vacuum and non-existing position that the judiciary, in exercise of its constitutional power, steps in and provides a solution till the legislature comes forward to perform its role.” [Also refer; Manoj Narula v. UOI, (2014) 9 SCC 1 and Supreme Court Employee Welfare Assn. v. UOI, (1989) 4 SCC 187]
3. Regina (Countryside Alliance) v. Attorney General, (2008) 1 AC 719;
“…The democratic process is liable to be subverted if, on a question of moral and political judgment, opponents of the Act achieve through the courts what they could not achieve in Parliament.”
4.State of Himachal Pradesh v. Satpal Saini, (2017) 11 SCC 42;
“Reference was made to Supreme Court Employees’ Welfare Association, (1989) 4 SCC 187, that no writ of mandamus can be issued to the legislature to enact a particular legislation nor can such direction be issued to the executive which exercises the powers to make Rules in the nature of subordinate legislation.”
With respect to instances where the State Government is liable to reimburse the expenses incurred by the complainant, the Court highlighted the following points;
- Every victim of atrocity or his/her dependent and witnesses shall be paid expense from his place of residence to the place of investigation or trial of offence under the Act.
- The District Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate shall make necessary arrangements for providing transport facilities or reimbursement of full payment to the victims of atrocity and witnesses for visiting the investigating officer, Superintendent of Police/Deputy Superintendent of Police, District Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate.
- Every woman witness, the victim of atrocity or her dependent being a woman or a minor, a person more than sixty years of age and a person having 40 % or more disability shall be entitled to be accompanied by an attendant of her/his choice. The attendant shall also be paid traveling and maintenance expenses as applicable to the witness or the victim of atrocity when called upon during hearing, investigation and trial of an offence under the Act.
- The witness, the victim of atrocity or his/her dependent and the attendant shall be paid daily maintenance for the days he/she is away from the place of his/her residence or stay during investigation, hearing and trial of an offence, at such rates but not less than the minimum wages, as may be fixed by the State Government for the agricultural labourers.
- In addition to daily maintenance expenses, the witness, the victim of atrocity (or his/her dependent), and the attendant shall also be paid diet expenses at such rates, as may be fixed by the State Government from time to time.
- The payment of traveling allowance, daily allowance, maintenance expenses and reimbursement of transport facilities shall be made immediately or not later than three days by the District Magistrate or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate to the victims, their dependents/attendant and witnesses for the days they visit the investigating officer or in-charge police station or hospital authorities or Superintendent of Police, Deputy Superintendent of Police or District Magistrate or any other officer concerned or the Special Court.
- When an offence has been committed under Section 3 of the Act, the District Magistrate or the Sub-Divisional Magistrate or any other Executive Magistrate shall reimburse the payment of medicines, special medical consultation, blood transfusion, replacement of essential clothing, meals and fruits provided to the victim of atrocity.
While upholding the Constitutional validity of the State Act, the bench observed: “neither the Commission nor the State Government, is obligated to create a specific fund for reimbursement of the expenses, incurred by the complainant/witnesses for their appearance, in relation to inquiry and examination of a complaint by the Commission constituted under Section 3 of the Kerala State Commission for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes Act, 2007, and such fund is required to be created by the State Government, only in the case of investigation or trial.”
It was further said that, the submissions made by the petitioner are not sustainable and cannot be countenanced, as there is no derogation or inconsistency between the Central and the State Rules. [M.P. Chothy v. State of Kerala, 2020 SCC OnLine Ker 4254, decided on 29-09-2020]