Monday, June 12, 2017

Indian Supreme Court in 2010 in workplace harassment suicide case ruled that suicide note accusation alone is not enough for even FIR on abetment of suicide

Note: I have put up this post in this spiritual blog as unfortunately suicides related to perceived workplace harassment do happen in ashram systems too! 

Supreme Court of India, Madan Mohan Singh vs State Of Gujarat & Anr on 17 August, 2010
Author: V Sirpurkar, Bench: V.S. Sirpurkar, Cyriac Joseph, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1844186/

The case involved an appeal by Madan Mohan Singh (appellant), who seems to have been a senior officer of BSNL, caught up in a case of abetment of suicide. The alleged suicide was done by a driver, Deepakbhai Krishnalal Joshi, who served under Madan Mohan Singh. The state of Gujarat & Anr. are respondents. [Ravi: I think Anr. means 'and others'.]

The person committing suicide, it was claimed, had made a suicide note where he blamed job related (workplace) harassment by his boss, Madan Mohan Singh, for him allegedly committing suicide (his death was confirmed by the authorities but suicide does not seem to have been confirmed) in February 2008.

Given below are extracts from the above judgement:

3. This First Information Report was filed and registered on 17.3.2008 i.e. after the 24 days of the death of her husband. It is this report which is challenged suggesting that even if the whole report is accepted as it is, it did not disclose any offence much less the offences under Sections 306 and 294, IPC. Since, the Gujarat High Court did not agree and dismissed the petition; the appellant is before us now.
[Ravi: The FIR seems to have charged Madan Mohan Singh with abetment of suicide (section 306) and section 294, which seems to deal with obscene acts and songs - see https://indiankanoon.org/doc/594493/ for details of section 294. Singh appealed against the FIR in Gujarat High Court which rejected his appeal. So Singh appealed to the Supreme Court.]
4. Shri K.T.S. Tulsi, learned Senior Advocate took us through the FIR in which there is reference to a suicide note allegedly written by the deceased, a Xerox copy of which was produced by the complainant. The copy of that suicide note was filed before us. It seems to be a letter dated 4.2.2008 written to the Chief General Manager, Telecom Project. It is a huge complaint in which the incident dated 15.10.2007 was mentioned when allegedly the appellant asked the driver to keep the keys of the vehicle on the table and not to take away them. There is also a complaint against the working style of the Madan Mohan Singh by the driver. There is one significant sentence I was put under mental tension by M.M. Singh. Without any concrete proof and evidence I was put under insulting position due to which I began to feel resentment and insult and I came under depression.

5. The further complaint in that so-called suicide note appears to be that the driver was not given a fixed vehicle though all the drivers were given fixed vehicles to drive. There is also a complaint against one Raghunathan suggesting that he misled the DGM and had given him a very bad vehicle to drive. By way of example, it was pointed out that the keys of the vehicle were taken in the absence of Incharge, M.K. Sovangya without giving any reasons verbally. Then he was not given any charge of the vehicle and running log book. Thirdly, he was sent the transfer order by post. The attendance of the office staff was not maintained and he was transferred and the vehicle was given to a regular labour. There is also a complaint about the salary of 15 days which was deducted by Madan Mohan Singh. A fair inquiry was sought for by the said driver. It was suggested that his retirement date was 25.12.2012 and salary should be recovered from Madan Mohan Singh as he had harassed him without giving any concrete reason. It is then suggested in the followings words:

I am going to commit suicide due to his functioning style. Alone M.M. Singh, D.E.T. Microwave Project is responsible for my death. I pray humbly to the officers of the department that you should not cooperate as human being to defend M.M. Singh. M.M. Singh has acted in breach of discipline disregarding the norms of discipline. I humbly request the Enquiry Officer that my wife and son may not be harassed. My life has been ruined by M.M. Singh."

6. This huge note is addressed to inquiry officer, Chief General Manager and also to the Chief Justice. The biggest complaint against the accused is that he had changed the duty of this driver from one car to another though no other driver was ever transferred. Again and again, the deceased has insisted that the only person responsible for his suicide was Madan Mohan Singh.
...

[Part of point 8:] We are convinced that there is absolutely nothing in this suicide note or the FIR which would even distantly be viewed as an offence much less under Section 306, IPC. We could not find anything in the FIR or in the so-called suicide note which could be suggested as abetment to commit suicide. In such matters there must be an allegation that the accused had instigated the deceased to commit suicide or secondly, had engaged with some other person in a conspiracy and lastly, that the accused had in any way aided any act or illegal omission to bring about the suicide. In spite of our best efforts and microscopic examination of the suicide note and the FIR, all that we find is that the suicide note is a rhetoric document in the nature of a departmental complaint. It also suggests some mental imbalance on the part of the deceased which he himself describes as depression. In the so-called suicide note, it cannot be said that the accused ever intended that the driver under him should commit suicide or should end his life and did anything in that behalf. Even if it is accepted that the accused changed the duty of the driver or that the accused asked him not to take the keys of the car and to keep the keys of the car in the office itself, it does not mean that the accused intended or knew that the driver should commit suicide because of this. In order to bring out an offence under Section 306, IPC specific abetment as contemplated by Section 107, IPC on the part of the accused with an intention to bring out the suicide of the concerned person as a result of that abetment is required. The intention of the accused to aid or to instigate or to abet the deceased to commit suicide is a must for this particular offence under Section 306, IPC. We are of the clear opinion that there is no question of there being any material for offence under Section 306, IPC either in the FIR or in the so-called suicide note.

9. It is absurd to even think that a superior officer like the appellant would intend to bring about suicide of his driver and, therefore, abet the offence. In fact, there is no nexus between the so called suicide (if at all it is one for which also there is no material on record) and any of the alleged acts on the part of the appellant. There is no proximity either. In the prosecution under Section 306, IPC, much more material is required. The Courts have to be extremely careful as the main person is not available for cross- examination by the appellant/accused. Unless, therefore, there is specific allegation and material of definite nature (not imaginary or inferential one), it would be hazardous to ask the appellant/accused to face the trial. A criminal trial is not exactly a pleasant experience. The person like the appellant in present case who is serving in a responsible post would certainly suffer great prejudice, were he to face prosecution on absurd allegations of irrelevant nature. In the similar circumstances, as reported in Netai Dutta Vs. State of W.B. [2005 (2) SCC 659], this Court had quashed the proceedings initiated against the accused.

10. As regards the suicide note, which is a document of about 15 pages, all that we can say is that it is an anguish expressed by the driver who felt that his boss (the accused) had wronged him. The suicide note and the FIR do not impress us at all. They cannot be depicted as expressing anything intentional on the part of the accused that the deceased might commit suicide. If the prosecutions are allowed to continue on such basis, it will be difficult for every superior officer even to work.

11. It was tried to be contended by the learned counsel appearing on behalf of the complainant that at this stage, we should not go into the merits of the FIR or the said suicide note. It is trite law now that where there is some material alleged in the FIR, then such FIR and the ensuing proceedings should not be quashed under Section 482 Cr.P.C. It is for this reason that we very closely examined the FIR to see whether it amounts to a proper complaint for the offence under Sections 306 and 294(b) IPC. Insofar as Section 294(b) IPC is concerned, we could not find a single word in the FIR or even in the so-called suicide note. Insofar as Section 306 IPC is concerned, even at the cost of repetition, we may say that merely because a person had a grudge against his superior officer and committed suicide on account of that grudge, even honestly feeling that he was wronged, it would still not be a proper allegation for basing the charge under Section 306 IPC. It will still fall short of a proper allegation. It would have to be objectively seen whether the allegations made could reasonably be viewed as proper allegations against the appellant/accused to the effect that he had intended or engineered the suicide of the concerned person by his acts, words etc. When we put the present FIR on this test, it falls short. We have already explained that the baseless and irrelevant allegations could not be used as a basis for prosecution for a serious offence under Section 306 IPC. Similarly, we have already considered Section 294 (b) IPC also. We have not been able to find anything. Under such circumstances, where the FIR itself does not have any material or is not capable of being viewed as having material for offence under Sections 306 and 294(b) IPC, as per the law laid down by this Court in State of Haryana & Ors. Vs. Bhajan Lal & Ors. [1992 Suppl. 1 SCC 335], it would be only proper to quash the FIR and the further proceedings.
[Meaning of 'trite law' from http://www.yourdictionary.com/trite-law : "Things that are obvious; laws that are common knowledge".
 From https://indiankanoon.org/doc/1679850/ :
Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973
482. Saving of inherent powers of High Court. Nothing in this Code shall be deemed to limit or affect the inherent powers of the High Court to make such orders as may be necessary to give effect to any order under this Code, or to prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice.]
12. For all these reasons, we are of the clear opinion that the High Court erred in not quashing the proceedings. Allowing this appeal, we set aside the order of the High Court and allowing the petition under Section 482 Cr.P.C. filed by the appellant/accused, the questioned proceedings are quashed.

--- end extracts of Supreme Court judgement ---

Ravi: Wow! What a clear analysis of how a suicide note ALONE for workplace harassment naming a person as cause for suicide, cannot be accepted as ground for even having a criminal trial under section 306, abetment of suicide! I am so happy to see such an obviously just judgement from the Indian Supreme Court.

Note that the appellant tried to get the police FIR itself  (and further proceedings) quashed! This is another learning for me. So if a police station files an FIR against a person, which that person feels is a completely wrong FIR (abuse of legal process), the person can appeal to the High Court (of the state where the FIR was filed) and, if needed, the Supreme Court, under Cr. PC section 482 (part of sec. 482 deals with "prevent abuse of the process of any Court or otherwise to secure the ends of justice"). Singh lost his appeal to quash the FIR (cancel/reject the FIR) against him and (quash) further proceedings, on section 306 (abetment of suicide) and section 294, in the Gujarat High Court. So he appealed to the Supreme Court which quashed the FIR (and further proceedings) and also said that the Gujarat High Court, "erred in not quashing the proceedings"!!!

I wonder whether the Gujarat police had arrested Singh after the FIR was filed. I guess, in all probability, they would have done so. Then he would have had to seek bail from a court which may have happened only after some days (perhaps a week or two). But even if Singh was kept in jail for a few days (and perhaps faced loss of prestige and honour in society then), later on he was able to use judicial processes to challenge the police's FIR and eventually won!!! Really great to know that a citizen (or even a non-citizen resident/visitor, I guess) can challenge in a High Court or Supreme Court, an FIR filed against him/her if he/she feels the police station abused legal process by filing a completely wrong FIR against him/her.

Here is an interesting related (Indian) article, Suicide by Employees and Liability of Employer, http://asklabourproblem.info/suicide-by-employees-and-liability-of-employer/.

The first two short paragraphs of the above article are given below:

The past decade has seen a significant rise in incidents of employee suicides.With the rising levels of workplace stress, the employers, namely the Management of Companies are being increasingly blamed by either the employee himself or his family members, for abetting the employee to take such a drastic step.

In cases of employees committing suicide allegedly owing to work reasons, the effect may be severely magnified, especially for the Management/Employer against whom, in most cases, the family members of the deceased retaliate by instituting an FIR for offences under Section 306 (Abetment of Suicide) read with Section 34 (Acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

--- end extract from asklabourproblem.info ---

The article then provides advice on how the employer can legally protect himself/herself/itself in such situations. The article quotes the Supreme Court case covered in this post (Madan Mohan Singh), to argue that suicide note alone accusing somebody (employer) is not enough grounds for a case under IPC section 306 (abetment of suicide).

[I thank Indian Supreme Court (and indiankanoon.org) and asklabourproblem.info, and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts (short extract from asklabourproblem.info) from their websites on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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