Mental Healthcare Act
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Mental Healthcare Act: Supreme Court seeks explanation from Centre on validity of provision decriminalising attempt to commit suicide

Section 115 states that any person who attempts to commit suicide is presumed to have done so under severe stress. The Court sought to question how a blanket presumption can be applied.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court today sought an explanation from Central government on the validity of Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act of 2017, through which attempt to commit suicide under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was decriminalized.

The Supreme Court Bench of Chief Justice of India SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian today questioned how a provision of the IPC could be rendered ineffective by enacting a Central legislation.

"We find that Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which creates a presumption, has an impact on section 309 IPC," the Court observed today.

Section 115 reads,

"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."

The main point of query from the Court pertained to the validity of Section 115 which states that any person who attempts to commit suicide is presumed to have done so under severe stress. The Court sought to question how a blanket presumption can be applied to every person attempting suicide.

CJI Bobde pointed out that sometimes, a person committing suicide is not under extreme stress or is not of unsound mind. He said,

"Some priests and monks killed themselves in protest and they were in complete calmness of mind. Then there are people who do Santhara (Jain religious practice of voluntarily fasting to death)."

The Court had a discussion with Solicitor General Tushar Mehta on the practice of Santhara and the rationale behind the practice as provided for in the Jain faith. CJI Bobde, however, pointed out that regardless of what the faith says, the practice would attract the provisions of the Mental Healthcare Act in the current scenario.

"If it is treated as an attempt to suicide, then yes", SG Mehta said.

CJI Bobde, highlighting that the issue pertaining to Santhara remains pending before the Court as of now, added,

"...the attempt (in Santhara) is not to commit suicide but to liberate yourself from this miserable world…"

The Court then proceeded to issue notice to Attorney General for India KK Venugopal and Centre on the subject and sought an explanation from Union of India on the validity of Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act.

The Centre has been asked to show cause as to why the provision should not be treated as unconstitutional.

This petition has also been tagged with a pending matter which challenges the constitutional validity of Section 309 of IPC.

The discussion on attempt to suicide emananted from a petition which highlighted a recent incident of "wilfull man-animal conflict" where a human jumped into an animal's enclosure in a zoo in an attempt to commit suicide.

The petitioner highlighted that as a result, the animal was placed in solitary confinement which amounts to animal cruelty. The petitioner pointed out that there was no proper enforcement of the regulations around zoos or the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972.

Summarising the relief sought in the petition, the Court recorded in its order,

"The petitioner seeks certain directions to ensure prevention of attempts to commit suicide by persons by throwing themselves in the animal enclosures in Zoos."

On the issue pertaining to animal welfare and zoo regulations in this regard, the Court has appointed Senior Advocate ANS Nadkarni as an Amicus Curiae on a request made by the petitioner, Sangeeta Dogra, to this effect.

Read Order:

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