Although detention of a dead body causes insult and humiliation to the relative, it does not amount to an offence under the SC & ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 unless it is proven that the detention occurred due to either the dead person or its relative/s belonging to a Scheduled Caste

Mr. Indrajit Dilip Patil approached Justice S. K. Shinde under the Criminal Appellate Jurisdiction of the Bombay High Court to seek pre-arrest protection under Section 14A of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, for allegedly committing a crime, registered with the Islampur Police Station, Sangli District. The appellants in the case are healthcare employees of Prakash Hospital, Islampur, a hospital dedicated to treating patients of COVID-19, wherein Appellant 1 was in-charge of oxygen management, Appellant 2 was overseeing the medical treatment provided to the patients, Appellant 3 was an administrative clerk while Appellant 4 was a social worker for the hospital. A COVID-19 patient was bought to the hospital on May 02, 2021, from Manav Covid Centre, Kolhapur, wherein the complainant (nephew of the patient) deposited Rs. 50,000 as an advance whilst paying Rs. 3,00,000 for reserving a ventilator bed for his maternal uncle (the patient); however, the complainant allegedly did not receive any receipt for the aforementioned payments from the hospital. The patient succumbed to the disease on May 18, at 03:25 A.M., wherein the hospital allegedly refused to hand over the dead body of the deceased to the complainant owing to the non-payment of the pending bills of Rs. 2,17,512 even though the complainant had allegedly paid 3,50,000 to the hospital.

The complainant approached the Tehsildar of the taluka, wherein the Tehsildar sent some persons with the complainant to the hospital, wherein the complainant allegedly engaged in a heated argument with the appellants. The appellants allegedly hurled humiliating abuses at the complainant whilst maintaining their position of withholding the body of the deceased till the payment of the aforementioned amount; however, the dead body was handed over to the complainant at 03:00 P.M. after the intervention of the Tehsildar. The complainant held that the humiliating insults were hurled at them by the appellants due to them belonging to the Scheduled Castes, wherein the complainant filed an FIR on May 25 against the appellants. The appellants approached the Special Judge (Atrocity Act); however, the judge refused to provide any relief to the appellants.

On June 04, 2021, the Bombay High Court granted interim relief to the appellants while serving a notice to the complainant. In the present case, the appellants held that they were unaware of the Scheduled Caste status of the complainant, wherein the complainant allegedly disclosed his status after the arguments arose regarding the payment of the pending dues. Mr. Mohite, the learned counsel for the appellants submitted that the arguments between the appellants and the complainant were regarding the hospital bills and the fact that taking the body of the deceased was against the hospital protocol and the guidelines of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on dead-body management. Mr. Mohite submitted that the body of the deceased was detained due to non-payment of the pending bills and not due to the fact that the body belonged to Scheduled Caste. Mr. Mohite holds that the claim of the complainant of the appellants detaining the dead body of the deceased to cause humiliation to the complainant owing to their Scheduled Caste status is false without any indicative material on record. The appellants argue that the arguments do not amount to an offence under Section 3 of the act because the arguments arose from the non-payment of the bills and not from the intention to humiliate or harass the status of the complainant.

The prosecution argued that the detention of the dead body of the deceased for approximately 10 hours amounts to insult and intimidation to the helpless complainant whilst furthering the insult by charging an additional amount of Rs. 2,17,512 without disclosing any particulars of the amount. The prosecution claims that the detention of the dead body violates the fundamental right to life with dignity of the maternal uncle under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, wherein the right to decent burial is a part of the right to life under Article 21 per the prosecution. Mr. A. R. Patil, the APP for the state, argued that the appellants were well aware of the status of the complainant; additionally, Mr. Patil held that Section 18 of the act bars granting pre-arrest protection and bail to the appellants by the court of law.

Justice S. K. Shinde held that the detention of the body of the deceased does not amount to an offence under the act even if the detention causes insult and humiliation to the complainant if and only if the said detention did not occur due to the complainant belonging to the Scheduled Caste as relied upon the FIR filed by the complainant, wherein the detention on the sole grounds of being from a Scheduled Caste must be proven to be amount to an offence under the act. The judge held that not all insults and intimidations to a person will be an offence under the act. The judge rejected the existence of an offence under the act due to the failure to meet the two-part test:

  1. The FIR filed by the complainant does not show that the appellants had any knowledge about the complainant being of a Scheduled Caste.
  2. The detention of the body of the deceased occurred due to the non-payment of the pending bills of the hospital by the complainant and not due to the complainant being a Scheduled Caste. The insult and humiliation caused to the complainant do not amount to an offence under the act.

The judge granted pre-arrest bail to the appellant since there was no offence committed under the act, provided the appellants neither tamper with the evidence nor attempt to influence the complainant, witnesses, any person concerned with the case.

The court held that upon the arrest of the appellants, they shall be released on executing PR bond for the sum of Rs. 25,000 each with one or more sureties.

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