August 09, 2016

Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, says that, whoever attempts to commit suicide and does any act towards the commission of such offence, shall he punished with simple imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year. However, upon considering the recommendations of the Law Commission, Government of India introduced Mental Healthcare Bill and the same was passed in the Rajya Sabha on August 8, 2016.

Bill seeks to provide a better health care facilities for those people who are suffering from mental illnesses. Bill also seeks to decriminalize the offence of Attempt to Suicide. By virtue of Section 124 of the Mental Healthcare Bill, 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 be suffering from mental illness at the time of attempting suicide and shall not be liable to punishment under the said section.

Section 124 further provides that, the appropriate Government shall have a duty to provide care, treatment and rehabilitation to a person, having mental illness and who attempted to commit suicide, to reduce the risk of recurrence of attempt to commit suicide.

In P. Rathinam v. Union of India, (1994 AIR 1844, 1994 SCC (3) 394) Honourable Supreme Court held that, an act of suicide cannot be said to be against religion, morality or public policy, and an act of attempted suicide has no baneful effect on society. Further, suicide or attempt to commit it causes no harm to others, because of which State's interference with the personal liberty of the persons concerned is not called for.

Thus, the Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code violates the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. Hence, it was held that, Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code deserves to be effaced from the statute book to humanize our penal laws.

However, in Smt. Gian Kaur v. The State of Punjab, (1996 AIR 946, 1996 SCC (2) 648) Supreme Court of India held that, Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code is not violative of either Article 14 or Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. In other words, the apex court held that, Section 309 of IPC is constitutionally valid.

Further, in 210th Law Commission Report on Humanization and Decriminalization of Attempt to Suicide, it is felt that attempt to suicide may be regarded more as a manifestation of a diseased condition of mind deserving treatment and care rather than an offence to be visited with punishment.

In Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug v. Union of India & Ors., [(2011) 4 SCC 454] Supreme Court of India opined that, although Section 309 of IPC has been held to be constitutionally valid in Gian Kaur's case, the time has come when it should be deleted by Parliament as it has become anachronistic. A person attempts suicide in a depression, and hence he needs help, rather than punishment. We therefore recommend to Parliament to consider the feasibility of deleting Section 309 from the Indian Penal Code.


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