The Calcutta High Court has scaled down the charge of culpable homicide to that of causing death by negligence against a cardiologist who was a former licensee of AMRI Hospitals where 92 people died in a fire in 2011.
The Petitioner, Dr. Mani Kumar Chhetri had challenged an order passed in March, 2016 by the Additional Sessions Judge, wherein Dr. Chhetri’s plea for discharging him from the case was rejected. Charges had been framed under Sections 304 (punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide) and 36 (effect caused partly by act and partly by omission) of the Indian Penal Code.
This order had now been challenged on the ground that the Trial Court had erred in law by dealing with Dr. Chhetri’s case conjointly with the other accused persons. He had submitted that being a nonagenarian and a reputed medical consultant of the city, his role as the Managing Director of the Hospital was restricted to medical matters. He, therefore, contended that he did not play any role in the day-to-day management of the hospital.
Furthermore, Dr. Chhetri submitted that the prosecution has been rendered invalid in law, as the company was not made an accused in the case. Moreover, he claimed that the offences under the Indian Penal Code do not involve vicarious liability, unlike special statutes like the Negotiable Instruments Act and Essential Commodities Act.
Public prosecutor Saswata Gopal Mukherjee, on the other hand, contended that the Dr. Chhetri was aware of the repeated warnings issued by the Fire Department regarding the storage of inflammable articles in its basement. He had further brought to the notice of the Court that the management of the Hospital had adopted a policy, namely Code Brown, wherein the AMRI staff was directed to abstain from reporting any outbreak of fire in the hospital. The adoption of such policy, he claimed, evidenced requisite knowledge of the circumstances on Dr. Chhetri’s part.
The Court agreed with the Petitioner’s contentions only partially, and quashed the charge of culpable homicide, observing, “Similarly, gross negligence on the part of the petitioner with regard to improvement in the fire safety measures in spite of repeated directions to that effect by itself cannot give rise to a degree of certainty of knowledge that their act or omission is likely to cause death so as to justify framing of charge under Section 304 Part II or Section 308 of I.P.C.”
It, however, refused to let him off the hook, opining that the Petitioner’s gross negligence was evident in the facts of the case. Justice Bagchi opined that Dr. Chhetri, along with the board members, had failed in their duty to maintain the fire safety measures at a standard which is expected of a reputed hospital.
“The role of the Board of Directors including the petitioner as Managing Director was, therefore, of overall supervision of the various departments of the hospital including the fire safety department. There is ample material on record to indicate that the petitioner and other members of the Board failed to discharge their supervisory role and ensure that the directives of the Fire Department of the Government of West Bengal were promptly implemented and other infrastructural irregularities and functional deficiencies of the fire fighting facilities of the hospital were swiftly addressed,” the Court observed in this regard.
Justice Bagchi then directed framing of charges under Sections 304A (causing death by negligence), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), read with Sections 35 (criminal knowledge or intention) and 36 (effect caused partly by act and partly by omission) of the IPC.
Read the Judgment Here