Legal Conundrum: POCSO Act vs. SC/ST Act – The Bombay High Court’s Perspective

Case Title – Dinanath Manik Katkar v. State of Maharashtra and Anr.

Anticipatory Bail Application No. 2589 of 2023


Decided on: 13th September 2023


In a recent landmark judgment, the Bombay High Court weighed the conflicting provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, sending ripples through the legal community. The court’s decision hinges on the critical issue of anticipatory bail when allegations under the POCSO Act are not prima facie established against the accused. In this blog, we delve into the background, the court’s decision, and the implications of this ruling.

Facts of the case

The petitioner sought pre-arrest bail in a criminal case under multiple IPC sections, the POCSO Act of 2012, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) of 1989, and the Atrocities Act. The atrocities based on caste, sexual harassment, and violence were among the charges. The trial judge rejected the accused’s request for anticipatory bail. He therefore went to the high court. Instead of filing an appeal under Section 14A of the Atrocities Act, he requested anticipatory bail under Section 438 of the CrPC.

The Legal Conundrum

The crux of the matter lies in the conflict between these two statutes when an individual accused of a sexual offense against a child seeks anticipatory bail. The question at hand is whether the provisions of anticipatory bail in the POCSO Act should prevail over the SC/ST Act when allegations under the POCSO Act are not prima facie established.

In its recent judgment, the Bombay High Court has held that the provisions of anticipatory bail in the POCSO Act would not prevail over the provisions of appeal in the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act if the allegations under the POCSO Act are not prima facie made out against the accused.

The court reasoned that the SC/ST Act, being a special legislation, must be given precedence in cases involving individuals from these marginalized communities. It cited the principle of harmonious construction of statutes and the need to protect the rights and interests of SC/ST communities as the basis for its decision.

Implications of the Judgment

The judgment underscores the importance of safeguarding the rights of individuals from SC/ST communities. It ensures that the special provisions of the SC/ST Act are not diluted when cases involve multiple statutes. This ruling sets a legal precedent that may influence similar cases in other jurisdictions. Courts in India may consider this decision when dealing with conflicts between different statutes. The judgment highlights the significance of interpreting laws in a manner that upholds the principles and objectives of each statute, especially when they seem to overlap. The Bombay High Court’s decision provides clarity on the legal procedures to be followed when allegations under the POCSO Act are not immediately substantiated, especially when an accused seeks anticipatory bail.

The Atrocities Act’s Section 14A supersedes the Criminal Procedure Code by stating that any judgement, sentence, or order, as well as the granting or refusing of bail by a Special Court, may be appealed to the High Court. An accused person under the Atrocities Act is prohibited from filing an anticipatory bail application under section 438 of the CrPC, according to section 18 of the Act. In the event of any conflict, the POCSO Act’s non-obstante clause, included in Section 42A, will take precedence over all other laws.

The court stated that when two statutes contain non-obstante clauses, the later enactment is deemed to prevail since it is inferred that the legislature was aware of the earlier statute and decided to give the later statute superseding force. The court made it clear that in order for this concept to be applicable, the offences that are punishable by the later law (in this example, the POCSO Act) must be prima facie proven. Some claims involved crimes covered by the Atrocities Act, like insulting a Scheduled Caste member’s modesty and caste-based abuse. Additionally, it was claimed that the defendant purposefully videotaped girls dancing in a procession. The court concluded that this did not constitute a prima facie case under the POCSO Act.

In order to avoid violating Section 438 of the CrPC, the court instructed the petitioner to submit an appeal as provided for in Section 14A of the Atrocities Act.

The applicant was granted permission by the court to turn the anticipatory bail application into an Atrocities Act appeal. The court allowed the applicant the freedom to bring up the issue before the relevant bench and ordered the necessary changes to be made as soon as possible.

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Written by- Shivanshi Singh, NMIMS Law School Mumbai


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