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An Analysis of the Legality of the SC/ST(POA)Act and Its Social Implications

Updated: May 18, 2021

Ayush Abraham John & Jhanvi Singh Sooryavanshi, Nyayshastram

“Caste cannot be abolished by inter-caste dinners or stray instances of inter-caste marriages. Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of the mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism and we observe Untouchability because we are enjoined to do so by the Hindu religion. A bitter thing cannot be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed but poison cannot be changed into nectar.” [1]

--- Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.


India gained its independence in 1947 and implemented the world’s largest Constitution in 1950, however, some people in the country remained deprived of their rights. It was not that they were denied their rights, instead, they were victims of social discrimination. The Protection of Civil Rights Act was enforced for the benefit of these people in 1955. Despite this, discrimination continued against people belonging to specific sections of society. Although the fundamental right to equality in the Indian Constitution, but this class continued to be a victim of discrimination.

Considering the increase in the rate of violence against India's downtrodden people, there have been varied inhuman incidents experienced by untouchables, like polluting their drinking water, forcing them to consume human excreta, throwing waste in their premises, etc. In 1989 the Government enacted an Act to prevent crime against weaker section people in the country. In India, the weaker section of people are known as schedule caste and schedule tribe; since, the caste system's existence in the country, the schedule caste and schedule tribe population are untouched and vulnerable. Therefore, India's government promulgated the ST and SC (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in 1989 to prevent atrocities against these people.

This Act brought a new vision to the Indian judiciary; it also deals with the measures for protection, welfare rehabilitation, and government officers' answerable for penal penalization beneath this Act. The Central Government was allocating monetary resources for the implementation of the Act.

What is the Atrocities Act?

In general parlance, this Act is called the Prevention of Atrocities or Scheduled Caste / Tribe Act. It punishes offences against persons involved in Scheduled Castes and Tribes. It gives special protection and rights to the victims.

Atrocities of various forms

  1. Forcing scheduled castes and tribes to his/her house or to do the wrongful occupation.

  2. Preventing schedule castes and tribes from voting or forcing them to vote specific persons. Polluting the water of a spring or reservoir ordinarily used by members of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to make it unfit for use.

  3. Prohibiting a Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe person from using public places accessible to others.

  4. Giving fake information to any public servant and compelling him to use his power to cause damage to a Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe person.

  5. Forcing a member of the Scheduled Caste and tribe to drink marketing waste within the premises to cause insult.


Punishment under (POA)Act[2]

All offences listed in the Act are cognizable, which means that the police can arrest the offender without a warrant and start an investigation into the case without taking any orders from the court. The Act prescribes both minimum as well as maximum punishment. The minimum in most cases is six months imprisonment, while the maximum is five years sentence and with a fine. In some cases, the minimum is enhanced to one year while the maximum goes up to life imprisonment or even a death sentence. For offences under section 3(2)(ii), the punishment is not less than six months but may extend to seven years or upwards with a fine. For offences under section 3(2)(iii), the punishment is between six months to seven years with a fine. For offences under section 3(2)(iv), the punishment is imprisonment for life with a fine. For offences under section 3(2) (iv), (v), the punishment is imprisonment for life with a fine. For offences under section 3(2) (a), the offences as specified in the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Offense of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015, the punishment is as prescribed under the IPC.

SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act(1989)

The Parliament passed the SC-ST Act on 1 September 1989 for the protection of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The SC-ST Act came into force on 30 January 1990 across the country. Its objective is to provide public security to people belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and prevent discrimination and atrocities against them. This Act aims to provide equal rights to people belonging to the SC-ST category like other classes. A special provision of hearing has been made in this Act in crimes against people belonging to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Under this, there is also a provision for severe punishment for those who discriminate or do injustice to this community's people.

The following are a few benefits provided by the Act:

  1. SC / ST cases will be heard only in special courts

  2. Only the High Court can get bail in this case

  3. Sufficient facilities and legal help are provided to the victims of atrocities.

  4. Economic and social rehabilitation is provided to the afflicted class. During the hearing, the travel expenses and the needs of the victims and witnesses are provided by the government.

Relevant Constitutional provisions

  1. Article 46 – promote the educational and economic interests of SC, ST, and different weaker sections of the society and defend them from social injustice and exploitation.

  2. Article 338 – National Commission for Scheduled Castes[3]

A. check out and display all topics referring to the constitutional and different prison s safeguards to assess their working.

B. inquire into unique lawsuits for the deprivation of rights and safeguards of the SC

338-A – National Commission for Scheduled Tribes[4]

Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Act, 2015

Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Act, 2015 was introduced to ensure more stringent provisions to prevent SC and ST from atrocities.

New offences of cruelty were included in the Act. The Act does not attack Section 18 of the original Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989. This provision does not allow an accused person, who is alleged to have caused injury to and insulted a Dalit, to apply for anticipatory bail.

Subhash Kashinath Mahajan VS State of Maharashtra[5] -In this case, Petitioner Kashinath Mahajan moved the High Court to have the FIR dismissed, but the Bombay High Court refused it. After this, Mahajan challenged the High Court's decision in the top court. On this, the Apex court ordered the removal of the FIR against him and ordered immediate arrest under the SC / ST Act. Not only this, but the Supreme Court also approved anticipatory bail in such cases.

Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Act, 2018

Prevention of Atrocities (Amendment) Act, 2018 was introduced to restore the actual provision to protect ST and SC from atrocities against them. Making changes to the SC / ST Act, on 20 March 2018, the Supreme Court immediately stayed the arrest in the case. The Supreme Court, on receiving the complaint, ordered not to file the case immediately. The court said that the initial investigation will be done by the DSP level police officer in case of a complaint. The investigation should be done within seven days in any case. The Court did this so that after the initial investigation, the DSP could find out that it was not being implicated in some way by making false allegations. The court had acknowledged the misuse of this law on a large scale. The Court also said that Government employees' arrest can be made only after the competent authority's permission. The Court also gave them the right to apply for anticipatory bail.

Criticism on the Court's Decision

The Supreme Court's decision to change the SC / ST law was opposed across the country. The bandh was called by many organizations across the country on 1 April 2018. The place was set on fire, many people also lost their lives in this protest, Public property was set on fire. The organizations demanded that the amendment of the SC / ST Act 1989 be withdrawn and implemented as before.

Views of the Government

The Central Government was under pressure after protests across the country. The Government had filed a review petition against this decision of the court. Several ministers in the government and members of coalition parties also opposed the decision. Under pressure, the government brought the first ordinance. Later, on behalf of the government, the SC / ST amendment bill was introduced in the monsoon session. Most opposition parties, including Congress, supported the bill. In the amended bill, the government had brought back the provision to register an FIR in such an offence.

The Government admitted that investigation is unnecessary before registering a case, and no permission has to be taken before the arrest. The provision of anticipatory bail also came to an end. On the plea of the BJP government, the Supreme Court changed its decision. The court overruled the need to seek permission before arresting a government employee and an ordinary citizen.

Remedies for offences against SC and ST

Some remedies are that have been discussed are[6]:

-Proper consultation with all stakeholders before bringing any amendment to the bill should be done.

- There should be a focus on implementation strategy and proper investigation, and speedy trial for the SC/ST community. This will help to build confidence among the weaker section people of society.

- Steps should be taken by giving adequate capacity building opportunities through employment, education, etc.

-The most crucial thing for ending discrimination and improving fraternity is a persistent societal action to change the entrenched caste rigidity. SC/ST. Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA act) as a tool in this endeavour rather than an end in itself.

-Measure should be taken to increase people's participation from the SC/ST community in decision making.


It is the need of the hour to review the implementation of the 1989 Act and to amend some of the provisions of the Act, which are favourable for the current social condition and about the atrocities committed against weaker section people. The practical implementation of this Act is essential for the diversified Indian society and the nation as a whole. Further, it is suggested that serious offences such as rapes and murder against the weaker sections be dealt with the National SC and ST awareness programmes help to educate the weaker section, people, about their entitlements through the POA Act.


[1] Rao. s Someswara, Prevention of atrocities against scheduled castes and scheduled tribes implementation of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes prevention of atrocities act 1989:a comprehensive study, available at

[2] Explained: Everything you need to know about the SC/ST Atrocities Act

[3] Forum IAS, Amendment of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities)ACT, available at

[4] Forum IAS, Amendment of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities)ACT, available at

[5] Sethu krishnan M, SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act – Recent Issues and Court Rulings, available at

[6] Forum IAS, Amendment of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities)ACT, available at


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