Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that an alleged victim of sexual assault committed suicide in Bareilly district of Uttar Pradesh as the police allegedly delayed proceedings on her complaint.

Reportedly, the Senior Superintendent of Police, Bareilly has placed the Sub-Inspector concerned under suspension and one Munshi, who had dismissed the application submitted by the victim, has also been attached. The FIR in the matter has now been registered and orders have been issued for a thorough probe.

The Commission has observed that the contents of the news report, if true, raise serious issue of violation of human rights. Accordingly, it has sent notices to the Chief Secretary and the DGP, Uttar Pradesh calling for a detailed report on the matter within four weeks.

The Commission has further observed that it is unfortunate that the public servants instead of taking timely action on her complaint, tried to delay the proceedings forcing the woman into frustration and mental agony due to which she took an extreme step of ending her life by hanging herself. If timely action had been taken by the police authorities to arrest the accused, a precious human life could have been saved.

According to the media reports, the FIR on the complaint of the victim was reportedly registered only after she met the senior officers. Still, the Sub-Inspector concerned who was investigating the matter allegedly asking her to go for medical examination and get her statements recorded. Now, two people, accused of the rape attempt have been arrested and two others have been nabbed for passing certain comments at the victim woman.


National Human Rights Commission

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: Sandeep K. Shinde, J. dismissed an appeal filed by the State against the order of acquittal by the trial court in respect to the matter pertaining to Sections 498-A and 306 of Penal Code, 1860.

State preferred the present appeal under Section 378(1) of CrPC, 1973 against the order of acquittal passed by Additional Sessions Judge.

In accordance with the prosecution case, the deceased suffered suicidal death due to acute cardiorespiratory arrest caused due to 100% burns at her matrimonial house. Deceased’s brother filed the complaint against deceased’s brother-in-law (accused 1) and wife of accused 1 (accused 2) along with sister-in-law of deceased (accused 3), for ill-treating the deceased and for abetting to commit suicide.

Thus, a crime under Section 498-A and 306 read with Section 24 of the Penal Code, 1860 was registered,

Deceased suffered unnatural death within a period of 7 years from the date of her marriage. Trial Court acquitted the accused, having found the prosecution could not establish that the accused ill-treated and caused cruelty to deceased within the meaning of Explanation Clause-a to Section 498-A of the Penal Code, 1860.

Settled Law:

“Cruelty for the purpose of Section 498-A Penal Code, 1860 means any “willful conduct” which is of such a nature as is likely to drive a women to commit suicide or to cause grave injury or danger to life, limb or health (whether mental or physical) of the woman or harassment of the woman where such harassment is with a view to coercing her or any person related to her to meet any unlawful demand for any property or valuable security is on account of failure by her or any person related to her to meet such demand.”

The question involved in the present case is,

“Whether prosecution has established that the “willful conduct” of the accused was of such a nature which drove Shaheeda (deceased) to commit suicide?”

On the date of the incident, a quarrel ensued between the deceased and accused 2, during the course of the same, deceased inflicted injury on the forehead of accused 2 by a stick. It is disclosed that when accused 1 had gone to the police station to report about the assault by deceased on his wife (accused 2), he was informed that the deceased had set herself on fire.

It was reported to the police that there were recurring disputes between the deceased and her in-laws on account of supply and electricity and water.

Thus upon assessing the evidence of deceased’s brother, it cannot be said that “willful conduct” of the accused amounts to cruelty and such alleged conduct drove her to commit suicide. There is no specification laid out as to what kind of ill-treatment or harassment was meted out to the deceased.

High Court on noting the facts and circumstances of the case, held that there is no evidence or rather, it is not the case of the prosecution that the deceased was physically harassed or tortured by the accused. Equally, there is no dependable evidence to hold that, accused were mentally torturing the deceased.

Therefore, by relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Pawan Kalyan v. State of Haryana, (1998) 3 SCC 309, Ramesh Kumar v. State of Chhattisgarh, (2001) 9 SCC 618 and  Mohd. Hoshan v. State of A.P., (2002) 7 SCC 414, Court held that the trial court is consistent with the evidence which cannot be faulted with and hence no interference is called for. The appeal, therefore, fails and is dismissed. [State of Maharashtra v. Ibrahim Ruknuddin Bagkari, Criminal Appeal No. 1267 of 2003, decided on 11-09-2019]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

The National Human Rights Commission has taken suo-moto cognizance of media reports that a woman committed suicide at Police Station Jathlana, Yamunanagar, Haryana alleging police inaction in her rape case. The Commission has issued notices to Chief Secretary and DGP, Haryana calling for a detailed report on the matter within six weeks.

The Commission has also directed to the DGP, Haryana to communicate the action taken against the delinquent police personnel. The Commission directed the Chief Secretary of the State of Haryana to look into vulnerability of the family of the deceased and the protection and financial help if not already carried out, be provided by the State to the victim family. The direction also issued about whether training has been provided to the police personnel at different levels to handle such sensitive cases with a more human touch.

Issuing the notices, the Commission has observed that the contents of the news reports, if true, raised serious issue of violation of human rights of the victim and indicate gross negligence on part of the police personnel. The apparent insensitivity and lackasdical attitude on part of the police personnel is a grave concern.

According to the news reports carried today on 04-09-2019, the victim had got tired by visiting the police station again and again and in fact, justice was denied to her by the police authorities of Jathlana Police Station in Yamunanagar and she finally committed suicide. Her family members have made serious allegations against the Sub-Inspector and Police Station In-charge and demanded their suspension with the immediate effect.

The father of the deceased woman lodged a complaint that his daughter was married in the year 2016 and after marriage, she did not give birth to a child and there were regular altercations in the family. Some months ago, when the victim came to her maternal house in her village, where alleged fellow villagers on the pretext of getting her divorce and also job called her at a place and gave the victim lift in a car and took her to Jagadhar Bus stand where the victim was given juice having sedatives. The news report also reveals that the accused kept the victim in Delhi, Lucknow and Dehradun for 3-4 months and during the time, the victim was raped and obscene videos were also made. The victim somehow managed to get free from their captivity and after came back to the house revealed the ordeal to her family members.


National Human Rights Commission

[Press Release dt. 04-09-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court:  A Division Bench of Rakesh Kumar Jain and Harnaresh Singh Gill, JJ. heard an appeal that sought divorce under Section 13 of Hindu Marriage Act, 1955.

The facts of the case at hand were that the couple got married in March, 2019 and later the respondent-wife left her matrimonial house in May 2015. In February 2016, the husband (appellant herein) filed for divorce on the grounds of blackmail, adultery and mental harassment of the husband as well as his family. The trial court rejected the relief of divorce on the ground that on the date of filing of the divorce petition, the statutory period of two years had not expired.

I.P.S Kohli, the counsel for the appellant, contended that since the very beginning of the marriage, the respondent quarrelled with her in-laws and threatened them to do everything under her command. He further claimed that she refused to do the household work and held that she would commit suicide if she was forced to do chores to create troubles for them. He further accused the respondent of adultery and for consuming alcohol and drugs. The counsel maintained that the respondent had a habit of leaving her matrimonial home without informing them and any inquiry of her whereabouts would be called as ‘interference on her personal life’. He alleged that the respondent refused to share a bed with the appellant which caused mental stress to him. He claimed that the respondent broke her mangalsutra in front of the Panchayat members and outrightly refused to live with the appellant as his wife and left her matrimonial home.

The respondent-wife, though agreed to the facts regarding the marriage, denied the accusation that she threatened to commit suicide. She also negated the facts that she refused to do household chores and in turn claimed that she would cook meals regularly and feed the family and the guests. She contended that she was pressurized to bring money from her parents and to influence them to sell their land. However, these demands were not acceded to by the respondent or her father. She added that the appellant and his parents harassed her physically and mentally. She further claimed that the appellant and his family never accepted her and turned her out of the house.

The Court observed that the allegations of cruelty remained unsubstantiated and there was no infirmity and illegality in the impugned judgment and decree passed by the trial Court. It relied on the case Rajni Goyal v. Amit Kumar, 2014 SCC OnLine P&H 24088, to rule that adultery on part of the respondent cannot be proved as there was no cogent evidence was presented by the appellant “Rather unsubstantiated and uncorroborated testimony associating the respondent with adulterer has caused mental cruelty to the respondent”. In addition to this, the Court was of the opinion that this case was of normal ‘wear and tear’ of the married life of the parties, which takes place on a daily basis in life. The Court further remarked that on the date of filing of the divorce petition, the statutory period of two years had not expired. Thus, the present divorce petition had rightly been rejected on this count by the trial court. Hence, the appeal was dismissed.[Ravinder Yadav v. Padmani, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 1294, decided on 17-05-2019]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has expressed its willingness to meet with the wife of former senior police officer Gaurav Dutt who allegedly committed suicide and blamed West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee for the extreme step in his suicide note.

The Court said it will interact with Sreyashi Dutt in July to ascertain why she wants to withdraw her plea for an independent inquiry into the death of her husband. Sreyashi, the wife of the retired West Bengal cadre IPS officer from the 1986 batch, has sought to withdraw her petition, saying she was not in a proper mental condition when she agreed to file the case.

Dutt had accused Banerjee in his suicide note of pushing him to take the extreme step by “victimising” him for over 10 years. He was suspended and sent on compulsory waiting in 2010 following allegations of sexual assault of a male constable. He was found with a slit wrist at his home in Kolkata on February 19. Dutt had taken voluntary retirement last year.

(Source: ANI)

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: Sanjeev Sachdeva, J., allowed a petition filed by in-laws of the deceased (wife) against the order of the trial court in pursuance of which charges were framed against them under Sections 304-B (dowry death) and 498-A (husband or relative of husband of a woman subjecting her to cruelty) IPC.

As per the prosecution, the deceased had died within seven years of her marriage. It was alleged that on the fateful, she was brought to Sanjay Gandhi Hospital where she was declared brought dead. On the MLC, the doctor opined: “alleged history of hanging and declared brought dead”. Parents of the deceased stated that she was harassed for dowry by her husband and in-laws (petitioner). A case was registered and the trial court was of the view that a prima facie case was established against the husband and the in-laws. Accordingly, the charges were framed against all the accused. Aggrieved thereby, the in-laws filed the present petition.

Anunya Mehta and Akshay Deep Singhal, Advocates for the in-laws contended that the charges against them were based on omnibus allegations and the deceased was not residing with them for last several years as she was living separately in Rohini with her husband. They prayed for discharging the in-laws.

The High Court perused both the sections. It was noted that the allegations made by parents of the deceased were all against the husband. And there were a few very general allegations against the in-laws like that of ‘continuous bickering’. There was no allegation that they ever demanded dowry. It was stated, To constitute an offence under Sections 304-B and 498-A IPC, it not mere bickering which would amount to an offence but it should be harassment of such a nature that would drive a woman to commit suicide.” The Court held that allegations against the in-laws were not such a nature so as to qualify as an offence under the said sections. In such view of the matter, the petition was allowed and the in-laws were discharged.[Satbir Dalal v. State (NCT of Delhi), 2019 SCC OnLine Del 7006, dated 14-02-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Punjab and Haryana High Court: The Bench of Arvind Singh Sangwan, J. set aside an order framing charges under Sections 306 and 506 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 against petitioner.

The facts of the case were that one Amandeep Singh committed suicide after two years of marriage with the petitioner’s daughter. Pursuant to the dispute between the two families, the deceased’s wife left her matrimonial home. Thereafter, the deceased left his house and told his sister on the phone that he was disturbed because of his wife and was going to take his life by jumping in a canal. Later, his car and other belongings along with a gift bag were found near the canal with a note stating “I love U Aman Best Wishes for ours next life. This is last gift for you by me. Muhha Putt love you.”

A First Information Report was registered by father of the deceased – Ranjit Singh – under Sections 306, 506 read with Section 34 of Penal Code, 1860 against the petitioner and his daughter – Amanpreet Kaur. After completion of the investigation, the trial Court passed an order framing charges under Sections 306 and 506 of IPC, against petitioners. Aggrieved thereby, the instant revision petition was filed.

Counsel for the petitioner submitted that there was no direct allegation of abetment against them. Further, the deceased’s suicide note did not suggest that he had leveled any allegations against the petitioners, rather, he had shown his affection towards his wife. It was further argued that nothing on record to show that the petitioners have ever abetted the deceased to commit suicide.

The Court, opined that before holding an accused guilty of an offence under Section 306 IPC, the Court must scrupulously examine facts and circumstances of the case to find out whether the cruelty and harassment meted out to the victim had left him with no other alternative but to put an end to his life. The person who is said to have abetted the commission of suicide must have played an active role by an act of instigation or by doing certain actions to facilitate the commission of suicide. Reliance was placed on Apex Court’s dictum in Bhagwan Das v. Kartar Singh, (2007) 11 SCC 205 and Madan Mohan Singh v. State of Gujarat, (2010) 8 SCC 628.

It was held that there was nothing on record to show that by way of willful conduct of the petitioners, the deceased was compelled to commit suicide. Allegations in the FIR, as well as the material collected during the investigation, did not prima facie constitute offence under Section 306 IPC as no material has come on record to support the allegations/charge against the petitioners. The alleged suicide note only reflected deceased’s love towards his wife and there was no indication of any harassment. Thus, the impugned order was set aside.[Balwinder Singh v. State of Punjab, 2019 SCC OnLine P&H 11, decided on 09-01-2019]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench comprising of G.S. Sistani and Jyoti Singh, JJ. dismissed an appeal against the judgment of Family Court whereby it had decreed a divorce petition filed by the husband on grounds of cruelty by the wife.

The parties got married in 2006. A divorce petition was filed by the husband in 2009 alleging various instances of cruelty by the wife along with allegations that she was ill-tempered, stubborn, quarrelsome and insensitive towards the husband and his parents. On the basis of the evidence adduced by the parties, the Family Court granted a decree of divorce in favour of the husband on grounds of cruelty by the wife. Aggrieved thereby, the wife preferred the instant appeal.

While adjudicating, the High Court referred to a Supreme Court decision in Narendra v. K. Meena, (2016) 9 SCC 455. It was noted that the Family Court reached a conclusion that wife tied a dupatta around her neck and threatened him to commit suicide as the husband refused to seek separation from his parents. She also wrote a suicide note which was proved. In view of the Court, repeated attempts to commit suicide by the wife amounted to extreme cruelty especially when she tried to implicate the husband guilty of abatement. Finding no infirmity in the judgment passed by the Family Court, the High Court dismissed the appeal. [Kusum v. Gurcharan  Singh,2018 SCC OnLine Del 12576, decided on 15-11-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Calcutta High Court: A Division Bench comprising of Md. Mumtaz Khan and Jay Sengupta, JJ. partly allowed the appeal of the appellant-husband who was convicted under Sections 498-A and 306 IPC for cruelty and abetting the suicide of the deceased-wife by the trial court.

Prosecution’s case was that the appellant and the deceased were married 19 years ago. The wife lived in husband’s native village. Subsequently, she joined the husband in his dwelling home. There she came to know of the illicit relationship between the husband and the maid-servant who lived in the same house. She confronted the husband but to no avail. Instead, the husband started to abuse her and beat her. On the night of the incident, PW-1, brother of the wife, heard noise of her sister shouting from inside the appellant’s house. The door was locked from inside. PW-1 along with the local policeman forced-open the door of the house and found that the deceased was burning in flames. The appellant was not at home. The husband was charged, tried and convicted by the trial court for the offences mentioned above. Aggrieved by the same, the husband filed the present appeal.

The High Court perused the record. It was noted that the word cruelty mentioned in Section 498-A is any wilful conduct of the husband or his relative which is of such a nature as is likely to drive the women to commit suicide or cause grave injury or danger to life, limb, health. In Court’s opinion, the evidence of PW-1 and PW-2, brothers of the deceased, unerringly pointed towards the guilt of the husband in inflicting cruelty to the wife after she confronted him about his illicit relationship. This drove her to commit suicide. No irregularity was found with husband’s conviction under Section 498-A. However, the Court was of the view that he could not be held guilty under Section 306 as there was no direct evidence that he has, by his act, instigated or provoked the deceased to commit suicide. The only allegation was that on a fateful night, the parties had quarreled and thereafter the husband went to his night duty and the wife committed suicide. There was no evidence about the issue of quarrel and how the wife got burned. There was no direct evidence to show that the husband abetted the suicide committed by the wife. In such circumstances, the husband deserved to be acquitted of the charge under Section 306. Hence, the appeal was partly allowed. Conviction of the husband under Section 306 was set aside, however, that under Section 498-A was upheld. [Md. Sarfulla v. State of W.B., 2018 SCC OnLine Cal 5946, dated 03-09-2018]

Hot Off The PressNews

Supreme Court: The Bench comprising of CJ Dipak Misra and AM Khanwilkar and Dr DY Chandrachud, JJ., sought centre’s response on the plea seeking court-monitored CBI probe into the alleged suicide of BK Bansal, Ministry of Corporate Affairs’ official.

BK Bansal was the former Director General Corporate Affairs, who had hanged himself along with his son with a suicide note stating the reason to be “harassment” by CBI. Bansal was on bail when he committed suicide.

Further, a notice was issued to Centre in the same regard after the PIL was mentioned.

[Source: PTI]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Single Judge Bench comprising of Manish Pitale, J., acquitted the appellant-husband who was convicted by the trial court Section 498-A and other sections of IPC.

The appellant was married to the deceased and within one year of marriage she set herself on fire and committed suicide. It was alleged that the appellant and other co-accused demanded Rs 20,000 from her for treatment of appellant’s father. The trial court convicted the appellant but acquitted the co-accused.

The High Court observed, inter alia, that there were no separate or specific allegations made against the appellant. The trial court had found that the evidence on record was not sufficient to prove that case against the co-accused persons but the same evidence, the appellant was convicted. Moreover, the said demand of Rs 20,000 for treatment of his father such as to bring it under cruelty mentioned in Section 498-A IPC. In such circumstances, the High Court was of the view that conviction of the appellant, even when the co-accused were acquitted on the same evidence, was liable to be set aside. Therefore, the appeal was allowed and the appellant was acquitted of the charges framed against him. [Balaji v. State of Maharashtra,2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1955, dated 02-08-2018]

Case BriefsTribunals/Commissions/Regulatory Bodies

National Human Rights Commission: NHRC has taken suo motu cognizance of media reports that the Government of Maharashtra in the State Assembly has informed that 639 farmers committed suicide in the State between March and May, 2018. The reported reasons were crop failure, debt and inability to repay bank loans.

The Commission has issued notices to the Secretary, Union Ministry of Agriculture and the Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra calling for the detailed reports in the matter, specifically mentioning the status of implementation of the schemes for the farmers and relief to the aggrieved families. The response is expected within four weeks. The Union Government is expected to inform the Commission, if they have any specific plan or mechanism in their mind to effectively address the situation.

The Commission has observed that it is not for the first time that such news has come to its notice. It has been receiving complaints regarding the deaths of farmers across the country, including the State of Maharashtra. It has also taken suo motu cognizance of such matters. Committing suicide by the farmers in such a large number is a serious matter as it involves the right to life of the victims. Their families also come under tremendous pressure due to sudden demise of an earning member.

It has further observed that in spite of announcement of several schemes including crop insurance and loan waiver by the Central and State Governments, the forlorn story of poor farmers generally remains the same. The farmers are still choosing to end their lives, understandably, if not being able to cope up with the stress, financial crunch and social stigma due to crop failure. There is a need for the Central and State Governments to see that the schemes announced by them are implemented in true spirit, to achieve the target so that such tragic deaths of the farmers could be averted.

According to the media report, carried on 15th July, 2018, a total 639 farmers had committed suicide in Maharashtra between March 1 and May 31, 2018. The information had been provided by the State Revenue Minister in the State Assembly in response to the questions of the opposition members. They had, reportedly, alleged that all the schemes of the government, including the loan waiver, compensation to farmers in case of loss of crops and minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural goods, had failed, due to which the cases of suicide by the farmers have increased.

The news reports further say that as claimed by the opposition, in the last four years, as many as 13,000 farmers had ended life, of which 1500 committed suicide in the last one year alone. The Revenue Minister had reportedly stated that according to the parameters set by the State Government in October last year for declaration of drought, 8 talukas of Yavatmal, Washim and Jalgaon Districts were declared affected by medium intensity drought in April this year and the compensation along with other assistance has been provided to the affected farmers, accordingly.

It is further mentioned that on 29th May, 2018, the Union Government made amendments in the rules for declaration of drought-hit areas, based on the suggestions made by the states and accordingly the state revenue and forest departments have made the changes on 28.6.2018. The Chief Minister of the State has reportedly stated that appropriate action will be taken to recover the mortgaged lands of the farmers from the respective lenders.

National Human Rights Commission

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A Division Bench comprising of P.N. Deshmukh and M.G. Giratkar, JJ. allowed an application for quashing an FIR lodged for the offence punishable under Section 306 read with Section 34 IPC.

One Rupchand Sirsat, 54, working as Group Secretary in Kherda-Mozari Coop. Society committed suicide and left a suicide note making allegations against the applicant and other MPs and MLAs. The wife of the deceased informed the police, pursuant to which the FIR came to be registered for the offence as mentioned above. The applicants had filed the instant application for quashing of the said FIR.

The High Court, while considering the issue, referred to its previous decisions wherein it was held that for bringing an offence under Section 306, specific abetment as contemplated by Section 107 on the part of the accused, with an intention to bring about the suicide of the person concerned, is required. Further, in order to convict a person under Section 306, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit the offence. However, on the facts of the present case, the Court was of the view that the applicant cannot be said to have abetted the deceased to commit suicide. From the contents of FIR, the Court gathered that the deceased was mentally disturbed due to the death of his son. The concerned death note was written two months prior to the commission of suicide. After writing the said note, the deceased had proceeded on leave. In view of such facts and circumstances, the Court quashed the FIR registered against the applicants. [Pramod Shriram Telgote v. State of Maharashtra,  2018 SCC OnLine Bom 1456, dated 04-07-2018]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Uday U. Lalit, J. speaking for himself and Arun Mishra, J., delivered the judgment of the vacation bench holding that ‘workload’ or ‘work stress’, by itself, is not a ground to prove a charge of abetment to suicide against the employer/superior officer.

The Hon’ble bench was deciding a criminal appeal directed against the judgment of the Bombay High Court, whereby the appellant’s application under Section 482 CrPC for quashing of FIR was dismissed. The deceased was serving in the Office of Deputy Director, Education. He committed suicide. The wife of the deceased alleged that the deceased was suffering mental torture as his senior officers were getting heavy work done from him; he was called at odd hours and even on holidays; his salary for one month was not given; he was threatened that his increment would be stopped; due to work pressure, the deceased used to remain silent; she alleged that the senior officers were responsible for abetting the suicide of the deceased.

Hon’ble Bench of the Supreme Court referred to its earlier decision in Madan Mohan Singh v. State of Gujarat, (2010) 8 SCC 628, wherein it was held that there must be allegations to the effect that the accused had either instigated the deceased in some way to commit suicide or had engaged with some other person in conspiracy to do so or that the accused has in some way aided any act or illegal omission to bring about the suicide. In the instant case, the Court went through the record and did not find any such material which would show that the appellant abetted the commission of suicide. It was observed, as a superior officer, if some work was assigned by the appellant to the deceased, merely on that count, it cannot be said that there was any guilty mind or criminal intent. The exigencies of work may call for certain action on part of a superior including stopping of salary for a month. The action simplicitor could not be said to be a pointer against any such superior officer. Holding that the allegations in the FIR were inadequate and did not satisfy requirements of Section 306 IPC, the Hon’ble Court allowed the appeal and quashed the criminal case lodged against the appellant. [Vaijnath Kondiba Khandke v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine SC 545, decided on 17-05-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: A criminal appeal preferred by the appellant against the order of his conviction and sentence passed by the trial court, was allowed by a Single Judge Bench comprising of Sarang V. Kotwal, J.

The appellant was accused of subjecting his wife to cruelty due to which she committed suicide. The appellant was charged under Sections 498-A and 306 of IPC. He was tried, convicted and sentenced for the said offences by the trial court. The appellant challenged the decision of the trial court.

The High Court perused the record and found that the allegations against the appellant were that he demanded Rs. 1000 from the deceased. The Court was of the view that only asking for financial help from the wife without any further allegations would not amount to cruelty to attract the provisions of Section 498-A. Neither the allegation that the appellant harassed the deceased for she was not able to cook good food was proved by any evidence. In fact, it was found that the fact of the wife leaving the appellant’s house one month prior to the incident, was suppressed by the prosecution. In such circumstances, the High Court held that neither cruelty nor abetment could be proved against the appellant. Therefore, the Court allowed the appeal preferred by the appellant and set aside the impugned order. [Ananta Laxman Pansare v. State of Maharashtra, 2018 SCC OnLine Bom 963, dated 07-05-2018]

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Chhattisgarh High Court: The appellant was acquitted of the charges under Section 306 IPC by a Single Judge Bench comprising of Ram Prasanna Sharma, J., holding that there was no live link between the act of the appellant and suicide of the deceased so as to convict the appellant under the section.

The appellant-husband was alleged to have abetted the suicide of the deceased-wife. The statement of witnesses pointed to the fact that the appellant had assaulted the deceased on one previous occasion; however the date of such incident was not clear.

The High Court perused Section 306 along with Section 107 of IPC and observed that the abetment involves a mental process of instigating a person or intentionally aiding a person in doing a thing. Without a positive act on the part of accused to instigate or aid in committing suicide, conviction under Section 306 can not be sustained. In order to convict a person under Section 306, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit offence. It also requires an active act or direct act which leads deceased to commit suicide seeing no option and this act must have been intended to push deceased into such a position that he commits suicide. In the instant case, there was nothing on record as to what had happened on or prior to the date of incident which was unbearable for the deceased. Mens rea on the part of the appellant, requiring direct act and active act which led the deceased to commit suicide, was lacking. Some bitter experience during routine married life is natural and that was not sufficient to hold that since long back of the incident there was quarrel between the parties that is why the deceased took the extreme step. In the present case, there was no live link between the act of the appellant and the act of the deceased.

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the conviction and sentence of the appellant passed by the trial court was set aside. [Tulsiram v. State of Chhattisgarh, 2018 SCC OnLine Chh 413, dated 11-04-2018]

Legislation UpdatesStatutes/Bills/Ordinances

Enacting the new Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, Parliament has decriminalised the attempt to commit suicide. A person attempting to commit suicide shall be presumed to be under severe stress and shall not be prosecuted or punished under Section 309 of the Penal Code, 1860, unless proven otherwise. Further, the appropriate government has a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to the person having the stress.

The Section reads as:

115. Presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to commit suicide.–(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code any person who attempts to commit suicide shall be presumed, unless proved otherwise, to have severe stress and shall not be tried and punished under the said Code.
(2) The appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having severe stress and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.

 

The following Act of Parliament received the assent of the President on the 7 th April, 2017, and is hereby published for general information:—

THE MENTAL HEALTHCARE ACT, 2017

No. 10 of 2017          [7th April, 2017]

An Act to provide for mental healthcare and services for persons with mental illness and to protect, promote and fulfil the rights of such persons during delivery of mental healthcare and services and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

WHEREAS the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol was adopted on the 13th December, 2006 at United Nations Headquarters in New York and came into force on the 3rd May, 2008;

AND WHEREAS India has signed and ratified the said Convention on the 1st day of October, 2007;

AND WHEREAS it is necessary to align and harmonise the existing laws with the said Convention.

BE it enacted by Parliament in the Sixty-eighth Year of the Republic of India as follows:—

CHAPTER I

Preliminary

1. Short title, extent and commence­ment.– (1) This Act may be called the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017.

(2) It shall extend to the whole of India.

(3)It shall come into force on such date as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, appoint; or on the date of completion of the period of nine months from the date on which the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 receives the assent of the President.

2. Definitions.– (1) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires,—

(a) “advance directive” means an advance directive made by a person under Section 5;

(b) “appropriate Government” means,—

(i) in relation to a mental health establishment established, owned or controlled by the Central Government or the Administrator of a Union territory having no legislature, the Central Government;

(ii) in relation to a mental health establishment, other than an establishment referred to in sub-clause (i), established, owned or controlled within the territory of—

(A) a State, the State Government;

(B) a Union territory having legislature, the Government of that Union territory;

(c) “Authority” means the Central Mental Health Authority or the State Mental Health Authority, as the case may be;

(d) “Board” means the Mental Health Review Board constituted by the State Authority under sub-section (1) of section 80 in such manner as may be prescribed;

(e) “care-giver” means a person who resides with a person with mental illness and is responsible for providing care to that person and includes a relative or any other person who performs this function, either free or with remuneration;

(f) “Central Authority” means the Central Mental Health Authority constituted under Section 33;

(g) “clinical psychologist” means a person—

(i) having a recognised qualification in Clinical Psychology from an institution approved and recognised, by the Rehabilitation Council of India, constituted under section 3 of the Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992;

(ii) having a Post-Graduate degree in Psychology or Clinical Psychology or Applied Psychology and a Master of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology or Medical and Social Psychology obtained after completion of a full time course of two years which includes supervised clinical training from any University recognised by the University Grants Commission established under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 and approved and recognised by the 3 of 1956. Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1992 or such recognised qualifications as may be prescribed;

(h)“family” means a group of persons related by blood, adoption or marriage;

(i) “informed consent” means consent given for a specific intervention, without any force, undue influence, fraud, threat, mistake or misrepresentation, and obtained after disclosing to a person adequate information including risks and benefits of, and alternatives to, the specific intervention in a language and manner understood by the person;

(j) “least restrictive alternative” or “least restrictive environment” or “less
restrictive option” means offering an option for treatment or a setting for treatment which—

(i) meets the person’s treatment needs; and

(ii)imposes the least restriction on the person’s rights;

(k) “local authority” means a Municipal Corporation or Municipal Council, or Zilla Parishad, or Nagar Panchayat, or Panchayat, by whatever name called, and includes such other authority or body having administrative control over the mental health establishment or empowered under any law for the time being in force, to function as a local authority in any city or town or village;

(l) “Magistrate” means—

(i) in relation to a metropolitan area within the meaning of clause (k) of section 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, a Metropolitan Magistrate;

(ii) in relation to any other area, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Sub- divisional Judicial Magistrate or such other Judicial Magistrate of the first class as the State Government may, by notification, empower to perform the functions of a Magistrate under this Act;

(m) “medical officer in charge” in relation to any mental health establishment means the psychiatrist or medical practitioner who, for the time being, is in charge of that mental health establishment;

(n) “medical practitioner” means a person who possesses a recognised medical qualification—

(i) as defined in clause (h) of section 2 of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and whose name has been entered in the State Medical Register, as defined in clause (k) of that section; or

(ii) as defined in clause (h) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970, and whose name has been entered in a State Register of Indian Medicine, as defined in clause (j) of sub-section (1) of that section; or

(iii) as defined in clause (g) of sub-section (1) of section 2 of the Homoeopathy Central Council Act, 1973, and whose name has been entered in a State Register of Homoeopathy, as defined in clause (i) of sub-section (1) of that section;

(o)  “Mental healthcare” includes analysis and diagnosis of a person’s mental condition and treatment as well as care and rehabilitation of such person for his mental illness or suspected mental illness;

(p) “mental health establishment” means any health establishment, including Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy establishment, by whatever name called, either wholly or partly, meant for the care of persons with mental illness, established, owned, controlled or maintained by the appropriate Government, local authority, trust, whether private or public, corporation, co-operative society, organisation or any other entity or person, where persons with mental illness are admitted and reside at, or kept in, for care, treatment, convalescence and rehabilitation, either temporarily or otherwise; and includes any general hospital or general nursing home established or maintained by the appropriate Government, local authority, trust, whether private or public, corporation, co-operative society, organisation or any other entity or person; but does not include a family residential place where a person with mental illness resides with his relatives or friends;

(q) “mental health nurse” means a person with a diploma or degree in general nursing or diploma or degree in psychiatric nursing recognised by the Nursing Council of India established under the Nursing Council of India Act, 1947 and registered as 38 of 1947. such with the relevant nursing council in the State;

(r) “mental health professional” means—

(i) a psychiatrist as defined in clause (x); or

(ii) a professional registered with the concerned State Authority under section 55; or

(iii) a professional having a post-graduate degree (Ayurveda) in Mano Vigyan Avum Manas Roga or a post-graduate degree (Homoeopathy) in Psychiatry or a post-graduate degree (Unani) in Moalijat (Nafasiyatt) or a post-graduate degree (Siddha) in Sirappu Maruthuvam;

(s) “mental illness” means a substantial disorder of thinking, mood, perception, orientation or memory that grossly impairs judgment, behaviour, capacity to recognise reality or ability to meet the ordinary demands of life, mental conditions associated with the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but does not include mental retardation which is a condition of arrested or incomplete development of mind of a person, specially characterised by subnormality of intelligence;

(t) “minor” means a person who has not completed the age of eighteen years;

(u) “notification” means a notification published in the Official Gazette and the expression “notify” shall be construed accordingly;

(v) “prescribed” means prescribed by rules made under this Act;

(w) “prisoner with mental illness” means a person with mental illness who is an under-trial or convicted of an offence and detained in a jail or prison;

(x) “psychiatric social worker” means a person having a post-graduate degree in Social Work and a Master of Philosophy in Psychiatric Social Work obtained after completion of a full time course of two years which includes supervised clinical training from any University recognised by the University Grants Commission established under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956 or such recognised qualifications, as may be prescribed;

(y) “psychiatrist” means a medical practitioner possessing a post-graduate degree or diploma in psychiatry awarded by an university recognised by the University Grants Commission established under the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, or awarded or recognised by the National Board of Examinations and included in the First Schedule to the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, or recognised by the Medical Council of India, constituted under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, and includes, in relation to any State, any medical officer who having regard to his knowledge and experience in psychiatry, has been declared by the Government of that State to be a psychiatrist for the purposes of this Act;

(z) “regulations” means regulations made under this Act;

(za) “relative” means any person related to the person with mental illness by blood, marriage or adoption;

(zb) “State Authority” means the State Mental Health Authority established under section 45.

(2) The words and expressions used and not defined in this Act but defined in the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 or the Indian Medicine Central Council Act, 1970 and not 102 of 1956. inconsistent with this Act shall have the meanings respectively assigned to them in those Acts.

Chapter II

Mental illness and capacity to make mental healthcare and treatment decisions

3. Determination of mental illness.– (1) Mental illness shall be determined in accordance with such nationally or internationally accepted medical standards (including the latest edition of the International Classification of Disease of the World Health Organisation) as may be notified by the Central Government.

(2) No person or authority shall classify a person as a person with mental illness, except for purposes directly relating to the treatment of the mental illness or in other matters as covered under this Act or any other law for the time being in force.

(3) Mental illness of a person shall not be determined on the basis of,—

(a) political, economic or social status or membership of a cultural, racial or religious group, or for any other reason not directly relevant to mental health status of the person;

(b) non-conformity with moral, social, cultural, work or political values or religious beliefs prevailing in a person’s community.

(4) Past treatment or hospitalisation in a mental health establishment though relevant, shall not by itself justify any present or future determination of the person’s mental illness.

(5) The determination of a person’s mental illness shall alone not imply or be taken to mean that the person is of unsound mind unless he has been declared as such by a competent court.

4. Capacity to make mental healthcare and treatment decisions.–(1) Every person, including a person with mental illness shall be deemed to have capacity to make decisions regarding his mental healthcare or treatment if such person has ability to—

(a) understand the information that is relevant to take a decision on the treatment or admission or personal assistance; or

(b) appreciate any reasonably foreseeable consequence of a decision or lack of decision on the treatment or admission or personal assistance; or

(c) communicate the decision under sub-clause (a) by means of speech, expression, gesture or any other means.

(2) The information referred to in sub-section (1) shall be given to a person using simple language, which such person understands or in sign language or visual aids or any other means to enable him to understand the information.

(3) Where a person makes a decision regarding his mental healthcare or treatment which is perceived by others as inappropriate or wrong, that by itself, shall not mean that the person does not have the capacity to make mental healthcare or treatment decision, so long as the person has the capacity to make mental healthcare or treatment decision under sub-section (1).

Chapter III

Advance directive

5. Advance directive.– (1) Every person, who is not a minor, shall have a right to make an advance directive in writing, specifying any or all of the following, namely:

(a) the way the person wishes to be cared for and treated for a mental illness;

(b) the way the person wishes not to be cared for and treated for a mental illness;

(c) the individual or individuals, in order of precedence, he wants to appoint as his nominated representative as provided under section 14.

(2) An advance directive under sub-section (1) may be made by a person irrespective of his past mental illness or treatment for the same.

(3) An advance directive made under sub-section (1), shall be invoked only when such person ceases to have capacity to make mental healthcare or treatment decisions and shall remain effective until such person regains capacity to make mental healthcare or treatment decisions.

(4) Any decision made by a person while he has the capacity to make mental healthcare and treatment decisions shall over-ride any previously written advance directive by such person.

(5) Any advance directive made contrary to any law for the time being in force shall be ab initio void.

6. Manner of making advance directive.– An advance directive shall be made in the manner as may be specified by the regulations made by the Central Authority.

7. Maintenance of online register.–Subject to the provisions contained in clause (a) of sub-section (1) of section 91, every Board shall maintain an online register of all advance directives registered with it and make them available to the concerned mental health professionals as and when required.

8. Revocation, amendment or cancella­tion of advance directive.–(1) An advance directive made under section 6 may be revoked, amended or cancelled by the person who made it at any time.

(2) The procedure for revoking, amending or cancelling an advance directive shall be the same as for making an advance directive under section 6.

9. Advance directive not to apply to emergency treatment.– The advance directive shall not apply to the emergency treatment given under section 103 to a person who made the advance directive.

10. Duty to follow advance directive.– It shall be the duty of every medical officer in charge of a mental health establishment and the psychiatrist in charge of a person’s treatment to propose or give treatment to a person with mental illness, in accordance with his valid advance directive, subject to section 11.

For the rest of the Act, click HERE

Case BriefsHigh Courts

Bombay High Court: While allowing the application for suspension of sentence of the applicant/accused under Sections 498-A and 306 read with Section 34 of the IPC, the Bench of A.M Badar, J., observed that, matrimonial cruelty is included from the definition of legal cruelty as envisaged in Section 498-A of IPC. It was further observed by the Bench that, ordinary tantrums and discord or differences in domestic life does not amount to cruelty.

In the present case, the applicant/accused married his deceased wife in 2009; however in 2014 she committed suicide by hanging herself. It was alleged by the parents of the deceased wife that the applicant/accused subjected her to cruelty, thereby abetting her to commit suicide, thus resulting in the conviction and sentencing of the applicant/accused under Sections 498-A, 107, 306 and 34 of the IPC and Section 113-A of the Evidence Act. The counsel for the applicant contended that the evidence of the alleged cruelty committed by the applicant/accused is insufficient to prove his guilt.

Perusing the facts and contentions of the case at hand, the Court delved in the interpretation of ‘cruelty’ as envisaged under Section 498-A IPC. The Court observed that a dispute between the applicant and the deceased started over a ‘kaccha chapati’ (improperly cooked bread) and other trivial matters, and the deceased took an extreme step of calling her parents and brothers. It was also observed that the deceased wife was apparently berated for her ‘bad cooking’. Upon examining the aforementioned facts, the Court stated that deceased wife’s reaction was nothing more than a hyper-sensitivity of a wife.

Examining Section 498-A  IPC, the Court observed that, “cruelty implies harsh and harmful conduct with certain intensity and persistence. It covers acts causing both physical and mental agony and torture or tyranny and harm as well as unending accusations and recrimination reflecting bitterness putting the victim thereof to intense miscarries.” Therefore for a conviction under Section 498-A, it must be shown that the conduct of the accused has stirred such strong feelings in the mind of a married woman, that she feels that dying is the only option left with her to escape the torture. Thus in the opinion of the Court, the parents of the deceased wife have spoken more about the matrimonial cruelty committed upon their daughter, than the legal cruelty, moreover the incidents mentioned by her parents which ultimately led to the suicide of wife, were more of an ordinary petulance and discord in matrimonial life. Thus the Court deemed it fit to allow the application and suspend the sentence of the applicant/accused. [Neeraj Subhash Mehta v. State of Maharashtra, 2017 SCC OnLine Bom 62, decided on 13.01.2017]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Dealing with the scope of Section 306 IPC, the Court said that in order to convict a person under Section 306 IPC, there has to be a clear mens rea to commit an offence and that there ought to be an active or direct act leading the deceased to commit suicide, being left with no option.

The bench of Dipak Misra and Amitava Roy, JJ said that the offence punishable under Section 306 IPC is one of abetment of the commission of suicide by any person, predicating existence of a live link or nexus between the two, abetment being the propelling causative factor. The basic ingredients of this provision are suicidal death and the abetment thereof. To constitute abetment, the intention and involvement of the accused to aid or instigate the commission of suicide is imperative. Any severance or absence of any of this constituents would militate against this indictment. Remoteness of the culpable acts or omissions rooted in the intention of the accused to actualize the suicide would fall short as well of the offence of abetment essential to attract the punitive mandate of Section 306 IPC. Contiguity, continuity, culpability and complicity of the indictable acts or omission are the concomitant indices of abetment. Section 306 IPC, thus criminalises the sustained incitement for suicide.

In the present case, where a woman and her 2 daughters committed suicide, the Court noticed the materials on record do not suggest even remotely any act of cruelty, oppression, harassment or inducement so as to persistently provoke or compel the deceased to resort to self-extinction being left with no other alternative. No such continuous and proximate conduct of the appellant or his family members with the required provocative culpability or lethal instigative content is discernible to even infer that the deceased and her daughters had been pushed to such a distressed state, physical or mental that they elected to liquidate themselves as if to seek a practical alleviation from their unbearable earthly miseries.

It was explained that the courts have to be extremely careful in assessing the facts and circumstances of each case to ascertain as to whether cruelty had been meted out to the victim and that the same had induced the person to end his/her life by committing suicide, with the caveat that if the victim committing suicide appears to be hypersensitive to ordinary petulance, discord and differences in domestic life, quite common to the society to which he or she belonged and such factors were not expected to induce a similarly circumstanced individual to resort to such step, the accused charged with abetment could not be held guilty. [Gurcharan Singh v. State of Punjab, 2016 SCC OnLine SC 1415, decided on 02.12.2016]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: In the Ruchika Girhotra case, the Court reduce the sentence of S.P.S. Rathore to the period already undergone by him as a special case considering his very advanced age. The Court upheld the findings as to the guilt of the appellant-accused, however, it was held that the cause of justice would be best sub-served when the sentence of the appellant-accused would be altered to the period already undergone. The counsel for the appellant had pointed out the mitigating factors i.e. old age of the appellant-accused, health ailments, responsibility of looking after the unmarried daughter suffering from congenital heart disease, past meritorious service and prolonged trial.

The appellant, IG of Police and also the founder of the Haryana Lawn Tennis Association (HLTA) was accused of molesting 15-year old Ruchika, the deceased who later committed suicide by consuming poison. The deceased had got herself enrolled as members of HLTA and the accused molested her in his office. Aradhana, the deceased’s friend was an eye witness. Relying upon her testimony, the Court said that she, being the sole witness to prove the actus reus, her evidence should receive some careful consideration and there is no reason for her to depose falsely against the appellant. The occurrence of the overt act is well proved by the unimpeachable testimony of the eye-witness.

Regarding the non-examination of two important site witnesses i.e. the ball picker and the Coach, the Court said that evidence is weighed and not counted. Evidence of even a single eye witness, truthful, consistent and inspiring confidence is sufficient for maintaining conviction. It is not necessary that all those persons who were present at the spot must be examined by the prosecution in order to prove the guilt of the accused. Having examined all the witnesses, even if other persons present nearby not examined, the evidence of eye-witness cannot be discarded.

With regard to the delay of about 6 days in presenting the complaint to the SHO, the Court said that in a tradition-bound non-permissive society in India, it would be extremely reluctant to admit that any incident which is likely to reflect upon chastity of a woman had occurred, being conscious of the danger of being ostracized by the society or being looked down by the society. The decision of the victim of not informing about the incident to the parents under the circumstances that the appellant was a very senior police officer of the State, was reasonable and it would not have been an easy decision for her to speak out.

The bench of V. Gopala Gowda and R.K. Agrawal, JJ said that the High Court, on proper re-appreciation of the entire evidence, came to the right conclusion that the prosecution was successful in proving the case beyond reasonable doubt and the offence punishable under Section 354 of the IPC was made out. There is devastating increase in cases relating to crime against women in the world and our country is also no exception to it. Although the statutory provisions provide strict penal action against such offenders, it is for the courts to ultimately decide whether such incident has occurred or not. The courts should be more cautious in appreciating the evidence and the accused should not be left scot-free merely on flimsy grounds. [S.P.S. Rathore v. C.B.I., 2016 SCC Online SC 985, decided on 23.09.2016]