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SC asks Centre to justify 2017 Mental healthcare law on attempt to suicide

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New Delhi, Sep 11 (PTI) The Supreme Court Friday asked the Centre to justify its 2017 law on Mental Healthcare which “virtually negates” the pre-existing penal provision that made attempt to commit suicide a punishable offence.

The top court referred to the dichotomy in the provisions of the Mental Healthcare law and the colonial era Indian Penal Code and said that while the older one makes attempt to suicide a punishable offence, the subsequent law presumes severe stress as the origin of such act.

The top court sought response from the Centre and issued notice to Attorney General K K Venugopal.

It agreed to hear a plea of an NGO which has sought directions to the Centre and the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) to ensure prevention of attempts to commit suicide by persons by throwing themselves in the animal enclosures.

A bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said, “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”.

The notice for Union of India was accepted by Solicitor General Tushar Mehta.

The bench said, this act of attempt to commit suicide is an offence punishable under section 309 of the India Penal Code (IPC) but Section 115 of the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017, which creates a presumption, has an impact on the provision.

The top court also appointed former Additional Solicitor General ANS Nadkarni, as amicus curiae in the matter and tagged the plea with the Writ Petition challenging the constitutional validity of Section 309 of IPC, which is pending before this Court.

Section 115 provides for presumption of severe stress in case of attempt to commit suicide unless proved otherwise and the person shall not be tried or punished under the IPC.

The provision further provides that “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”.

During the hearing, the bench asked Mehta as to how can the government while enacting a law virtually nullify a provision of IPC.

Mehta pointed out that there is a presumption of unsoundness of mind or mental illness that gets attached when a person attempts to commit suicide.

The CJI said that it may not always be a case of unsoundness of mind as happened in the case of monks in Vietnam, who had killed themselves in protest.

“They were in a complete calm state of mind, there was no unsoundness of mind,” the bench said, adding that the practice of Santhara in Jainism is not to commit suicide but to liberate yourselves from this world.

At the outset, animal right activist Sangeeta Dogra, who represented the NGO ‘Red Lynx Confederation’, said the torture was inflicted upon an elephant, as a man jumped into the animal enclosure attempting to commit suicide.

She sought direction to Centre and Central Zoo Authority to take steps to prevent people from jumping into the animal enclosure to commit suicide.

On July 8, the Delhi High Court had declined to entertain the NGO’s plea alleging inaction by the Centre and the authority regarding repeated instances of people jumping into animal enclosures in various zoos across the country.

The High Court had however, allowed the NGO to make a representation before appropriate authorities in view of the cause espoused in the plea.

“As and when such a representation is received, the same shall be decided in accordance with the law, rules, regulations and government policy applicable to the facts of the case,” the court had said.

It had further said that the decision shall be taken “as expeditiously as possible and practicable”.

The petition, moved through Dogra, had cited various instances of people jumping into tiger or lion enclosures in various zoos across the country, leading to those individuals getting mauled to death by the felines.

It had alleged that zoo authorities were not ensuring that such incidents do not happen. PTI MNL ABA SJK SA

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