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KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Bombay High Court recently granted pre-arrest bail to hospital staff who were charged under the SC/ST Act for allegedly insulting the complainant and other persons (members of the Scheduled Caste community) by detaining their relative's dead body.
  • Noting that the dead body was detained due to an unpaid hospital bill, the Bench of Justice Sandeep K. Shinde stated that the mere detention of the dead body would not constitute an offence under the SC/ST Act of 1989 unless it could be demonstrated that the body was detained solely because the deceased belonged to the scheduled caste.

BACKGROUND

  • The complainant's maternal uncle was infected with Covid-19 and was admitted to Prakash Hospital, where he died of the disease 16 days later.
  • As a result, the complaint was instructed to complete the necessary formalities and pay any outstanding costs before his uncle's remains could be removed.
  • According to the complainant, the appellants humiliated the complainant and his family by imposing excessive fees on the hospital employees/appellants and holding the deceased body till the payment of additional fees/charges.
  • On this series of allegations, a First Information Report was filed against the appellants/hospital personnel under Sections 406, 420, 188, 297 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Sections 3(1)(r), 3(1)(s) of the SC/ST Act of 1989.
  • The appellants requested pre-arrest bail before the Special Judge (Atrocity Act) after their arrest, but when the relief was denied in the lower court, they appealed to the High Court.

CONTENTIONS OF THE PARTIES

  • The appellant’s counsel contended that the conflict arose between the complainant and the hospital administration primarily because of a pending hospital bill and because family members insisted on taking the deceased against the COVID protocol.
  • It was also argued that neither the complaint nor the circumstances suggest that the complainant's deceased corpse was retained with the goal of humiliating the complainant and his family members just because they were members of the scheduled caste.
  • The complainant's counsel, on the other hand, maintained that holding the body for not paying an excessive hospital bill was an insult and intimidation to the complainant and his defenseless family members, who had been waiting over 10 hours for the dead body.

COURT’S OBSERVATION

  • The Court began by emphasizing that Section 3(1)(r) of the SC/ST Act prohibits acts of insult or intimidation motivated by or referring to the caste or tribe of the person who was insulted.
  • The Court considered the facts of the case as well as the arguments advanced by both parties and concluded that the detention of the body would not constitute an offence under the Act of 1989 unless it could be demonstrated that the appellants were aware that the complainant belonged to a scheduled caste, and that the body was detained solely because the deceased belonged to a scheduled caste.
  • The Court further considered the fact that the dispute originated as a result of unpaid hospital bills, and there was no purpose of insulting either the complainant or the deceased just because they were members of the Scheduled Caste.
  • Finally, the Court granted pre-arrest bail to the appellants on the condition that they execute a PR bond for the sum of Rs.25,000/- each with one or more sureties in the same quantity, notwithstanding the fact that the circumstances caused humiliation to the complainant and his family members.
  • What are your views on the judgement?
  • How can the provisions of the SC/ST Act be misused against innocent persons?

Share your views in the comments section below.

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