Person attempting suicide deserves sympathy not punishment: petitioner

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Centre and others on a public interest litigation by a non-government organisation seeking de-criminalisation of Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of the India Penal Code, submitting that the provision is utra vires of the Constitution and violates Article 21.

The petitioner, Mental Health Foundation of India headed by a psychiatrist, works for the welfare of mentally-ill persons. It submitted that those who attempted to commit suicide deserved sympathy rather than punishment.

It further submitted that the Supreme Court, the Law Commission and several High Courts had recommended de-criminalisation of the offence. Though a Bill to decriminalise the provision was introduced in the Rajya Sabha way back in 1972, it was not ratified by the Lok Sabha as the House was dissolved in 1979 when the Bill was pending there for consideration, the petitioner submitted, adding that the Bill has since lapsed.

The Law Commission in its report in 2008 had recommended de-criminalisation of Section 309 saying that “it is unreasonable to inflict punishment upon a person who on account of family discord, destitution, loss of a dear relation or other cause of a like nature overcomes the interest of self-preservation and decides to take his own life. In such a case, the unfortunate person deserves sympathy, counselling and appropriate treatment, and certainly not the prison,” the petitioner submitted.

The petitioner said the present piece of legislation is vague and undefined to suit today's parlance as it fails to appreciate the sensitivity that is required to deal with individuals who have already suffered much trauma in life and have to undergo another round of suffering due to this redundant provision of law.

The provision was also violative of Article 14 as it was unable to distinguish different mental, physical and social causes which might lead to different individuals to attempt suicide for different ends and purposes, the petitioner added.

Issuing the notices, a Division Bench of Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna asked the respondents to file replies to the petition by July 6, the next date of hearing.

  • NGO seeks de-criminalisation of IPC Section 309
  • “The Supreme Court, Law Commission, many High Courts had also recommended it”