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Suicide Decriminalize; Section 309 will be Removed
Dec 27, 2014

The government has decided to decriminalize attempt to suicide by deleting Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code from the statute book. Under the said Section, a suicide bid is punishable with imprisonment up to one year, or with fine, or both.

The government has decided to drop Section 309 from the IPC after 18 states and 4 Union territories backed the recommendation of the Law Commission of India in this regard. A Cabinet note on the Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill has been circulated by the Union home ministry among other ministries such as law and health.

Law Commission of India, in its 210th Report, had recommended that Section 309 (attempt to commit suicide) of IPC needs to be effaced from the statute book. As law and order is a state subject, views of States/UTs were requested on the recommendations of the Law Commission. 18 states and 4 Union territory administrations have supported that Section 309 of the IPC may be deleted. Keeping in view the responses from the states/UTs, it has been decided to delete Section 309 of IPC from the statute book.

The law panel, in its 210th report submitted in 2008, had noted that attempt to suicide may be regarded more as a manifestation of a diseased condition of mind, deserving treatment and care rather than punishment, and accordingly recommended to the government to initiate the process for repeal of the anachronistic Section 309.

Incidentally, at least five states—Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Punjab and Sikkim—expressed reservations against the move to decriminalise suicide bids. Bihar wanted a distinction drawn between persons driven to suicide due to medical illnesses and suicide bombers who fail to blow themselves up or terrorists who consume cyanide pills to wipe out evidence, and wanted the former to be covered by a separate legislation. However, the home ministry officials clarified that a person would still face charges under the stringent Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, whether or not he succeeds in his mission.

Madhya Pradesh, Delhi and Sikkim argued that decriminalising attempt to suicide would handicap law enforcement agencies in dealing with persons who resort to fast unto death or self-immolation to press the government/authorities to accept their unreasonable or illegitimate demands. Such people, they argued, can no longer be booked for attempt to suicide or be force-fed.

A home ministry official pointed out the case of Manipuri anti-AFSPA activist Irom Sharmila, who has been on indefinite fast for the last 14 years but was kept alive by being charged with attempt to suicide and forcibly administered intravenous fluids.

Punjab, while not opposing the deletion of Section 309, insisted that the State come forward to rehabilitate people who attempt suicide by providing medical/psychiatric care and public assistance in case of unemployment, old age, sickness, rape victims and distressed farmers. Delhi demanded that reporting of attempt to suicide to authorised officer or hospital be made compulsory.

The Law Commission had earlier recommended repeal of Section 309 in its 42nd report submitted in 1971. The IPC (Amendment) Bill, 1978 was passed by the Rajya Sabha, but before it could be passed by the Lok Sabha, the Lok Sabha was dissolved and the bill lapsed. The Commission then submitted its 156th Report in 1997 after the Gian Kaur judgment, recommending retention of section 309. However, the commission, in its 210th report, said attempt to suicide warranted medical and psychiatric care and not punishment.


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