Recently the Bombay High Court granted pre-arrest bail to hospital staff who were charged under the SC/ST Act for allegedly insulting the complainant and other persons i.e. who are members of the Scheduled Caste community by detaining their relative’s dead body.
It’s worth noting that the dead body was held because of 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.
“It cannot be drawn from the evidence that the deceased corpse was held by the hospital administration solely because the complainant belonged to the scheduled caste. Furthermore, the First Information Report does not imply that the appellants or hospital administration were aware of the deceased’s Scheduled Caste status “The Court went on to say more.
The complainant’s maternal uncle was infected with Covid-19 and was admitted to the 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 making unreasonable demands for additional costs and by holding the deceased body without first paying further fees/charges.
On this series of charges, a FIR was filed against the hospital personnel under Sections 406, 420, 188, 297 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and Sections 3(1)®, 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 were denied. They then appealed to the High Court.
Briefs presented before the Court: –
The appellants’ 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 facts 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 defenceless family members, who had been waiting over 10 hours for the dead body.
Observations of the Court: –
The Court began by emphasising that Section 3(1)® 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.
In light of this, 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.
Title of the Case: – Mr. Indrajit Dilip Patil and Others vs. The State of Maharashtra and anr.