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SC/ST Act- No Offence Made Out Unless Shown That Dead-Body Was Detained Only Due To Caste: Bombay HC Grants Anticipatory Bail To Hospital Employees

Sparsh Upadhyay
17 Oct 2021 3:10 PM GMT
SC/ST Act- No Offence Made Out Unless Shown That Dead-Body Was Detained Only Due To Caste: Bombay HC Grants Anticipatory Bail To Hospital Employees
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The Bombay High Court recently granted pre-arrest bail to the employees of a hospital, who have been booked under the SC/ST Act for allegedly insulting the complainant, other people (who are the member of the Scheduled Caste community) by detaining the dead body of their relative. Noting that the dead body was detained because of the unsettled hospital bill, the Bench of Justice...

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The Bombay High Court recently granted pre-arrest bail to the employees of a hospital, who have been booked under the SC/ST Act for allegedly insulting the complainant, other people (who are the member of the Scheduled Caste community) by detaining the dead body of their relative.

Noting that the dead body was detained because of the unsettled hospital bill, the Bench of Justice Sandeep K. Shinde observed that detention of the dead body itself would not constitute offence under the SC/ST Act of 1989 unless it is shown that the body was detained by the hospital administration/employees only because the deceased belonged to the scheduled caste.

"From the material, it cannot be inferred that dead-body was detained by the hospital administration only because complainant belonged to scheduled caste. Besides, First Information Report, does not imply that appellants or hospital administration knew, that deceased was belonging to Scheduled Caste," the Court further observed.

The facts in brief

The maternal uncle of the complainant was suffering from Covid-19 and was shifted to the Prakash Hospital, wherein he succumbed to the disease around 16 days later. Therefore, the complainant was asked to complete formalities and clear the pending bills in order to take away the dead body of his uncle.

As alleged by the complainant, undue demand of additional fees by the hospital employees/appellants and detaining the dead body without first paying additional fees/charges, the appellants caused humiliation to the complainant and his family.

On this set of allegations, First Information Report was filed under Sections 406, 420, 188, 297 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and Sections 3(1)(r), 3(1)(s) of the SC/ST Act of 1989 against the appellants/hospital employees.

Apprehending their arrest, the appellants first sought pre-arrest bail before the Special Judge (Atrocity Act), however, when they were declined the relief in the lower court, they moved to the High Court.

Submissions made before the Court

The counsel for the appellants argued that essentially, the dispute arose between the complainant and the hospital administration because of the pending hospital bill and for the reason that family members were insisting to take the dead body against the COVID protocol.

It was further submitted that neither the complaint nor the circumstances imply that the dead body of the complainant was intentionally detained to cause humiliation to the complainant and his family members only because they belonged to the scheduled caste.

On the other hand, it was argued by the complainant's lawyer that detaining the body for not settling undue, hospital bill, itself was, insult and intimidation to the complainant and his helpless family members, who were waiting nearly for ten hours to receive the dead body.

Court's observations

The Court, at the outset, stressed that Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST Act punishes such act of insult or intimidation, which is on account or referable to caste or tribe of a person, who was insulted.

In view of this, the Court took into account the facts of the case and arguments advances by both the parties and thereafter observed that the detention of the body itself would not constitute offence under the Act of 1989 unless it is shown that the appellants knew that the complainant belonged to scheduled caste and secondly, the body was detained only because deceased belonged to scheduled caste.

The Court also took into account the fact that the dispute arose because of the unsettled hospital bills and there was no intention of causing insult to either the complainant or the deceased, only because they belonged to the Scheduled Caste.

Against this backdrop, the Court observed thus:

"First Information Report, does not imply that appellants or hospital administration knew, that the deceased was belonging to 'Scheduled Caste'. Undoubtedly, facts of the case reveal that dead-body was handed over to the relatives of the deceased only after the intervention of the revenue officer, and from the circumstances, it can be reasonably inferred that body was not handed owing to the fact that, the hospital bill was not settled.

Lastly, stressing that although the circumstances caused humiliation to the complainant and his family members by that itself would not constitute an offence either under clause (r) or (s) of the Act of 1989, the Court granted pre-arrest bail to the appellants on executing PR bond for the sum of Rs.25,000/- each with one or more sureties in like sum.

Case title - Mr. Indrajit Dilip Patil & Ors. v. The State of Maharashtra & Anr.

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