Provision made under a rule (SC/ST Rules), cannot negate a right extended through the parent legislation (SC/ST Act), the bench observed.
The Supreme Court, in State of Bihar vs Anil Kumar, has upheld a notification issued by the Bihar Government, authorising all the officers of the rank of police inspector, sub-inspector of police and assistant sub-inspector of police to investigate cases filed under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, within the state of Bihar.
The notification, which was challenged before the Patna High Court, allowed the investigative process, under the SC/ST Act, to be carried by officers’ three ranks below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, namely, through officers/officials holding the ranks of Inspector, Sub-Inspector and Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police.
This notification, it was contended, was inconsistent with Rule 7 of the SC/ST Rules, framed by the Central Government, which required all investigations in matters arising under the Act to be carried out by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police
The Patna High Court, on a petition by the accused, had upheld the validity of the notification, though it held that such investigations as were conducted by a police officer below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, after the publication of the SC/ST Rules (on 31.03.1995), and prior to the date of publication of the notification dated 03.06.2002 (i.e., prior to 09.08.2008), would “not” be treated as valid, and consequential prosecutions conducted in furtherance of such investigative processes (conducted by a police officer, below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police), would be a nullity. Both the accused and the state assailed this order before the Supreme Court.
State can relax Central rules
Referring to section 9(1)(b) of the SC/ST Act, which confers on the State government the power to further delegate the power of arrest, investigation and prosecution, the bench headed by Chief Justice of India JS Khehar said the state government was competent to relax the rule framed by Central government requiring that investigation be not carried out by an officer below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police, and thereby, extend the power of investigation to officers below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
“The power vested with the State Government, under Section 9 of the ‘SC/ST Act’, was therefore clearly expansive, and was obviously intended to enlarge the zone of arrest, investigation and prosecution, to officers/officials in addition to those authorized to do so under the Code of Criminal Procedure,” the bench said.
Interestingly, the court also observed that there is no infirmity in the determination of the Central government in vesting the investigative power, with reference to offences committed under the ‘SC/ST Act’, with an officer not below the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police.
Investigation carried out before publication of notification not vitiated
The court also set aside the high court observation that the investigation carried out by a police officer below the rank of a Deputy Superintendent of Police after 31.03.1995, and prior to the issuance of the notification dated 03.06.2002 (on 09.08.2008) would stand vitiated.
“The above finding could have been returned only if, the concerned Court expressed its satisfaction, that the investigation carried out, by a subordinate police officer/official, who had no authority to investigate the matter, had caused prejudice to the accused, leading to miscarriage of justice,” the bench said.
No retrospective operation
It also upheld the high court observation that the operative date of implementation of the notification dated 03.06.2002, would be the date of the publication of the above notification (i.e., 09.08.2008).
Read the Judgment here.