30 April 2022 7:15 AM GMT
The Kerala High Court recently quashed all charges pending against a Village Officer who attempted to commit suicide and was booked under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to commit suicide). After an elaborate study of the general judicial opinion on the issue, Justice K. Haripal observed that the growing trend was in favour of decriminalisation of the offence since...
The Kerala High Court recently quashed all charges pending against a Village Officer who attempted to commit suicide and was booked under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (attempt to commit suicide).
After an elaborate study of the general judicial opinion on the issue, Justice K. Haripal observed that the growing trend was in favour of decriminalisation of the offence since suicidal behaviour is often considered to be a symptom of mental distress.
"Decriminalisation of attempt to commit suicide is the general view of Courts and legal luminaries. Criminal prosecution followed by conviction and imposing substantive sentences and fine on those convicted of suicidal behaviors are believed to constitute an affront to human dignity. It is believed that a large section of the society considers that suicidal behaviour is typically a symptom of psychiatric illness or an act of psychological distress, suggesting that the person requires assistance in his personal and psychological life, not punishment with imprisonment or fine."
The petitioner herein was a Village Officer charged with Section 309 in 2020. She moved the Court under Section 482 of CrPC to quash the proceedings pending against her.
According to the FIS, when the defacto complainant and others demanded the issuance of income certificates related to the Life Mission Scheme (a government housing scheme) manually, the petitioner insisted that she will issue certificates manually only after getting instruction from the official hierarchy, which led to an altercation in the office. Out of the mental turmoil caused thereafter, the petitioner attempted to commit suicide.
The petitioner argued that the de facto complainant (president of the panchayat) and a group of people came to the office, wrongfully restrained and confined her. It was argued that they formed an unlawful assembly and in furtherance of their common object, obstructed the normal course of work in the office, gheraoed her, showing off the political influence and prowess on the confidence that they belong to the ruling party.
She added that the official directions and standing instructions insisted that income certificates shall be issued only through online mode since the applications were filed online. It was for this reason that she insisted on waiting for specific directions from the Tahsildar or the District Collector.
Meanwhile, the president and her aids started abusing, harassing and ridiculing her in front of the general public while some of them taped the incident. Haunted by the utter harassment and severe mental strain, out of fear, anxiety and loss of balance of mind for a moment, she took out a blade and cut the veins on her left arm and was immediately taken to a hospital.
Advocates Rajit, Ramakrishnan M.N and Mary Manju Vincent appearing for the petitioner submitted that she indulged in such an act without any intention, out of the compulsions of the circumstances to get out of the severe mental stress, which cannot attract offence under Section 309.
They also argued that Section 115 of the Mental Health Care Act saves criminal liability of the petitioner, since an attempt to commit suicide shall be presumed unless proved otherwise, to have been done under severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the Code. Further, it was contended to attract Section 115, the person need not be mentally ill; any person under stress can get the benefit of the provision.
Relying on the parliamentary discussion on the Mental Health Care Bill, the petitioner pointed out that the object of the Act was to de-criminalize attempts to commit suicide and to re-habilitate persons who make such attempts and therefore, it was urged that this is a fit case in which the proceedings should be quashed.
On the other hand, Senior Public Prosecutor Sreeja V. submitted that whether the petitioner had attempted to commit suicide out of severe mental stress is a fact to be considered at the time of trial and is a matter of evidence.
It appears that the investigation is underway.
The Court highlighted that there was no allegation from the panchayat president or others that the petitioner had demanded any illegal gratification or had adopted any corrupt practice, or that she had purposefully delayed the issue of certificate to trouble them. Moreover, even the charge sheet states that she had attempted to commit suicide by cutting the veins out of mental strain.
Justice Haripal went on to remark that the legality and correctness of the provision punishing attempts to commit suicide have always been the subject matter of discussion in the judicial circle for decades.
The Law Commission in its 42nd report had recommended the deletion of the offence of the attempt to commit suicide from the IPC. During 1978-'79 the recommendation was virtually accepted by the Government of India. But before amendments could be brought in, the Lok Sabha was dissolved in 1979 and the Bill lapsed. After a series of judicial decisions on this issue, in 2008 the Law Commission again favoured scrapping Section 309 in its 210th report.
The Supreme Court in Common Cause v. Union of India & Anr had recommended the Parliament to consider decriminalizing attempts to suicide, saying the provision had become anachronistic. The Court noted that a majority of the States had agreed to the proposal to amend Section 309.
Therefore, the Act was brought into force and notified in 2017. Although authorities on the subject are very few since it is a recent enactment, the Judge came across two decisions of Orissa and Himachal Pradesh High Courts in which prosecutions initiated under Section 309 were quashed.
The Court also noted that medical circles also believe that it is not an offence against the State, but, on the contrary, the State itself may be indirectly responsible for the plight of the victim who is left with no other alternative, except to end his life. From a societal perspective, decriminalization is a more sensitive and humane way of dealing with the problem compared to prosecution.
"What is important is to give sociological and psychological support to the victim rather than trying to punish him. That is why it was opined by one of the Hon'ble members of the Parliament in the discussion that the police should be trained to understand that an attempt to commit suicide is a cry for help and not a crime."
When the allegations against the petitioner were considered in this backdrop, it was found that the tense situation created in the village office on the arrival of the petitioner was imaginable. It looked like the object of the president and others was to obtain certificates by frightening her. In such an utterly annoying and exasperating situation, under severe stress, she lost balance for a moment and attempted to commit suicide for which prosecution proceedings were initiated against her.
The Court, therefore, took the view that overwhelming reasons were made out to confirm that she had committed the said act under severe mental stress which stands saved from being tried and punished under the Penal Code and that Section 115 of the Act saves the act of the petitioner from the penal provision.
As such, agreeing with the Orissa and Himachal Pradesh High Courts, the plea was allowed and the entire proceedings pending against the petitioner quashed.
Case Title: Simi C.N. v. State of Kerala & Ors.
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 199
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