Attempt to suicide: SC notice on law that decriminalises it

New Delhi, Sep 11 : The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine two laws which clash with each other on whether attempt to suicide is an offence. The top court has sought a response from the Centre to explain the validity of Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act 2017 that decriminalises attempt to take one’s life, as it runs contrary to Section 309 of Indian Penal Code (IPC), which punishes those who survives suicide attempts.

A bench comprising Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian queried how a provision of the IPC was rendered ineffective by enacting a central legislation. The bench observed that Section 115 adversely impacted the effect of Section 309. The bench also sought assistance of the Attorney General K.K. Venugopal on this matter. “Issue notice to the Attorney General for India, calling upon the Union of India to justify the validity of section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 which virtually negates section 309 IPC”, said the bench.

Section 115 says presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to commit suicide, Notwithstanding anything contained in section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (45 of 1860) 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.

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The observation from the top court came during hearing on plea which highlighted an incident where a person attempted suicide by jumping into an animal enclosure in a zoo. The petitioner cited, due to this man-animal conflict issue, the animal was kept in solitary confinement, which amounts to animal cruelty. The petitioner submitted before the bench that there is no enforcement of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. “The petitioner seeks certain directions to ensure prevention of attempts to commit suicide by persons by throwing themselves in the animal enclosures in Zoos. This act of attempt to commit suicide is an offence punishable under section 309 of the India Penal Code”, noted the top court.

The bench deliberated on the validity of Section 115 which says any person who attempts suicide is presumed to be have committed the act under severe stress. Therefore, how could a blanket presumption be applied in all cases.

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The bench noted that a person attempting suicide may not be under extreme stress. The bench cited some priests and monks killed themselves in protest; they were in sound state of mind. The bench also pointed to the Jain religious practice, Santhara, where people voluntarily fasted to death.

The bench had a brief discussion on this Jain religious practice, as per their faith. However, the bench noted that this practice would attract the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act in the current scenario. Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said if it is treated as suicide attempt, then yes. The bench noted that Santhara is pending before the courts. The bench said the religious practice is not commit suicide, but according to the faith, it is act to liberate a person from the worldly matters. “Let this matter be tagged with the writ petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 309 IPC, which is pending before this court”, said the bench.

–IANS/
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