Not an offence under the SC/ST Act unless insults and intimidation happen because one belongs to SC/ST- Supreme Court

In Hitesh Verma vs State of Uttarakhand, the SC held that an insult or intimidation directed at a person shall not be an offence under the SC/ST Act, 1989 (Prevention of Atrocities) unless these insults or intimidation are hurled solely for belonging to the SC/ST. The Court ruled that simply because an individual belongs to the SC/ST caste, they cannot file a complaint under this section for every wrong unless it was the clear intention of the accused to degrade the victim for belonging to the SC/ST caste.

In the current case, the parties are at loggerheads over possession of the land. The allegation of directing abuses is against a person claiming title over the disputed land. If the said person is a member of the SC, an offence u/s 3 (1) (r) of the Act cannot be made out. Therefore, the SC held that the property dispute between a person from the SC/ST community and a person who is from an upper-caste community cannot present an offence u/s 3 (r) of the Act unless the allegations on the accused are insulting the victim based on his/her caste.

There are 2 primary grounds on which the applicability of this Act is determined. First is the intention to insult and second being the act committed at any place in public view. The judgement stated that insult or intimidation in any place within public view is a prime ingredient of S.3 of the Act. Initially, the judgement distinguished between a place in public view and public place by citing Swaran Singh & Ors. v. StateIt was held that offence committed outside the building, for instance in the lawn outside the house which is visible to any individual on the lane outside the house, shall be regarded as the public view. However, if the insults, remarks of the offending act is committed inside the building with only a few members other than friends or family, it shall not qualify as an offence u/s 3 as it is not committed under public view. In this case, as mentioned in the FIR, the allegations of hurling abuses happened inside the building, within its four walls. There were no members other than friends or family present while the said incident happened. If this primary ingredient of the act happening in public view is missing, this provision cannot be applied.

The judgement also stated, “The long title of the Act is to prevent the commission of offences of atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, to provide for Special Courts and Exclusive Special Courts for the trial of such offences and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences.”

A three-judge Bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta andAjay Rastogiheard an appeal filed to gain relief against an Uttarakhand HC judgement. Appellate Hitesh Verma had filed this plea u/s 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1974. This plea sought quashing of a charge sheet along with a summons order against Verma for committing an offence u/s 3 (1) (r) of the SC and ST Act. The Uttarakhand HC had dismissed the appeal.

This criminal complaint was in addition to the pending property dispute between the parties in the civil court.  Adding further on this civil suit, the Bench observed that the appellant prohibited the respondent from cultivating on the disputed land for 6 months.

Quashing the charge sheet filed in this matter, the SC permitted the police to investigate the matter under relevant IPC offences.

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