Legal Correspondent

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has upheld a Calcutta High Court judgment acquitting three doctors of criminal negligence in the death of Anuradha Saha, wife of Kunal Saha, a doctor based in the United States.

Instant case

Anuradha Saha, a child psychologist, died in 1998 at 36, following complications in treatment at the Advanced Medicare Research Institute (AMRI), Kolkata. Dr. Saha’s relative, Malai Ganguly, registered a criminal case against doctors Abani Roy Choudhury, Mukherjee and Baidyanath Halder, alleging medical negligence.

While Dr. Choudhury was acquitted by the trial court, it sentenced the other two to three months’ imprisonment. The High Court, on appeal, acquitted both.

Meanwhile, a complaint filed by Dr. Saha seeking a compensation of Rs. 77 lakh was dismissed by the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.

The present appeals were filed by Malai Ganguly and Dr. Saha against the High Court judgment and the Commission’s order.

On Friday, a Bench, consisting of Justices S.B. Sinha and Deepak Verma, dismissed the criminal appeals but slapped costs of Rs. 5 lakh on the AMRI and Rs. 1 lakh on Dr. Mukherjee.

Criminal intention

The Bench, in its 132-page judgment, said: “For negligence to amount to an offence the element of mens rea [criminal intention] must be shown to exist. For an act to amount to criminal negligence, the degree of negligence should be much high. Negligence which is not of such a high degree may provide a ground for action in civil law but cannot form the basis for prosecution. To prosecute a medical professional for negligence under criminal law it must be shown that the accused did something or failed to do something which in the given facts and circumstances no medical professional in his senses and prudence would have done or failed to do.”

In the instant case, “negligent action has been noticed with respect to more than one respondent. A cumulative incidence, therefore, has led to the death. It is to be noted that doctrine of cumulative effect is not available in criminal law. The complexities involved in the instant case, as also the differing nature of negligence exercised by various actors, make it very difficult to distil individual extent of negligence with respect to each of the respondents.”