Victim Under SC/ST Act Includes Parents & Family Members Of Persons Suffering Injuries Of The Crime: Karnataka HC

             In a recent, remarkable and righteous decision delivered just recently on July 21, 2020, the Kalaburagi Bench of the Karnataka High Court in Marenna @ Mareppa v. State in Crl. Petition No. 200315/2020 has very rightly held that a victim under the SC/ST Atrocities Act includes not only the person who sustains injuries arising out of the crime but also his parents and family members. It is a very significant observation and ensures that the rights of the parents and family members are adequately protected. The case pertained to a deadly attack carried out on a 14-year-old boy whose head was allegedly hit by an axe by the petitioners-accused. They were also accused of abusing the boy in filthy language by mentioning the name of his caste.

To start with, Justice Hanchate Sanjeev Kumar who delivered this latest, landmark and extremely laudable judgment through ‘Virtual Court’ sets the ball rolling by first and foremost pointing out that, “Crl. P. No. 200315/2020 is filed by the petitioner/accused No. 2 under Section 439 of Cr.P.C and Crl.P. No. 200318/2020 is filed by the petitioner/accused No. 1 under Section 439 of Cr.P.C., seeking to enlarge them on bail.” This Criminal Petition is filed under Section 439 of CrPC, 1973 praying to release the petitioner on bail in Crime No. 72/2020 of Shahapur Police Station for the offences punishable under Sections 143, 147, 148, 323, 307, 504 and 506 read with Section 149 of IPC and Sections 3(1)(r), 3(1)(s) of SC/ST Act, 1989 pending on the file of District and Sessions Judge, Yadagiri. These petitions have been heard and reserved for orders on July 14, 2020. It is then pointed in para 2 that, “Since both the petitions arising out of same Crime i.e., in Crime No. 72/2020 of Shahapur P.S., they are taken up together, heard and disposed of by this common order.”

While dwelling on the definition of victim, it is envisaged in para 16 that, “Therefore, the definition “victim” as enumerated in the Act is wide enough, which include any individuals who falls within the definition of the SC/ST Act who has suffered or experienced physically, mentally, psychologically, emotionally or monetary harm or suffered harm to his or her property. If a person sustains injuries arising out of crime then, he himself, his parents, family members are also to be considered as victim as per the above definition. It is not only stipulated a physical harm is to be caused but if there is a harm mentally, psychologically, emotionally or monetarily or if there is any harm in respect of the property then such person is also coming within the definition of the victim.”

While continuing in the same vein, it is then further added in para 17 that, “In the present case, the first informant is the mother of the injured person. Therefore, definitely the first informant is victim in the present case. It is not only the mother alone is becoming the victim but father and other blood relative are also coming within the definition of victim to consider the present case. The first informant is the mother of the minor boy, the minor boy who had sustained injuries due to the assault  stated to have been committed by the petitioners and other accused. Therefore, certain rights are conferred to the victim and witnesses under the SC/ST Act.”

It would be instructive to now have a cursory glance at what para 18 states that, “Sub-section (5) of Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act guarantees a right to a victim or dependents to participate in any proceedings thus right of ‘Audi Alteram Partem’ is conferred. For ready reference, Sub-section (5) of Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act is extracted as under:

“A victim or his dependent shall be entitled to be heard at any proceeding under this Act in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole, conviction or sentence of an accused or any connected proceedings or arguments and file written submission on conviction, acquittal or sentencing.””

More significantly, it is then very rightly stated in simple and straight language in para 19 that, “Therefore, when a right of Audi Alteram Partem is conferred on the victim or his dependents, then the court has to give an opportunity/right of audience to the victim or his/her dependent to hear them as to enable them to participate in the proceedings including bail proceedings also. Therefore, a victim or dependent has a right to be heard by the Court enabling the victim or dependents to participate in any proceedings in respect of not only bail proceedings but also in the proceedings of discharge, release, parole, conviction or sentence of an accused or any connected proceedings or arguments and file written submission or conviction, acquittal or sentencing of a case. The court is able to hear the victim or respondent in respect of a proceedings as enumerated in Sub-section (5) of Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act only when the victim or dependent are made as parties in the proceedings, otherwise it cannot be possible for the court to hear the victim/dependents and to receive any written submission as stated in the said provision. The victim or dependent may participate either personally or through an Advocate or through Public Prosecutor or Special Public Prosecutor or appear himself/herself. As per Section 15 of the SC/ST Act, the Special Public Prosecutor are assigned the duties to represent the State in genre but in specie on behalf of the victim or dependent/complainant/first informant to prosecute the case. But the Parliament in its wisdom by inserting Chapter IV-A and Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act confers right of victims and witnesses and more expressly provided the victim or dependent to participate in any proceedings. Therefore, Sub-section (3) of Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act only enumerates giving such information to the victim or dependents through Special Public Prosecutor or State Government about any proceedings pending in the court. But Sub-section (5) of Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act confers a right on the victim or dependents to make them to participate in a proceedings and to hear their submissions and also to file written submissions in this regard in the proceedings pending before the court. Therefore, unless the victim or dependent as enumerated in Section 2(ec) of the SC/ST Act is made a party in the proceedings in the case pending before any court, it is not possible for the court to hear whatever submission to be put forth by the victim or dependents in the proceedings before the court. Therefore, under these circumstances, making the victim or dependent as party in the proceedings pending before any court is necessary and mandatory.”

Most significantly, it is then finally held in para 27 that, “Therefore, under these circumstances, the following guidelines are issued:

i)                 A right is conferred on the victim or his/her dependents to participate in the proceedings initiated under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 as enumerated in Section 15-A as discussed above. Therefore, the first informant/complainant/victim or dependents shall be made as a party in the proceedings and issue necessary notice to the victim or dependents/first informant/complainant/victim or dependents and to hear them in any proceedings as envisaged under Sub-section (5) of Section 15-A of the SC/ST Act.

ii)              The Special Courts trying with the offence/s under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 shall direct the District Legal Services Authority to provide an advocate on behalf of the victim or his/her dependents/first informant/complainant from the Panel Advocates of District Legal Services Authority.

The Registrar General is hereby requested to circulate this order to all the concerned Special Courts trying/dealing the offences under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 and to the Member Secretary, Karnataka State Legal Services Authority (KSLSA), who in turn shall inform all the District Legal Services Authority and Secretary, High Court Legal Services Committee (HCLSC) to provide legal services to the victim or dependents in any proceedings pending before the Special Court or High Court, as the case may be, as stated above.”

In a nutshell, the long and short of this notable judgment is that the victim under SC/ST Act includes not just the victim who suffered injuries of the crime but also includes the parents and family members of the person suffering injuries of the crime! There can be no denying or disputing it! It would be pertinent in this regard to recollect here what para 15 states that, “Section 2 (ec) of the SC/ST Act defines ‘victim’, as under:

“ “victim” means any individual who falls within the definition of the “Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes” under clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 2, and who has suffered or experienced physical, mental, psychological, emotional or monetary harm or harm to his property as a result of the commission of any offence under this Act and includes his relatives, legal guardian and legal heirs.””

Sanjeev Sirohi

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