Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of UU Lalit, Vineet Saran and Ajay Rastogi, JJ has allowed the 3 accused in the Dr. Payal Tadvi suicide case to complete their Post-Graduation from the same college.
“While balancing the competing claims, in our view, the Appellants must be allowed to go back to their courses of study otherwise the pendency of prosecution against them will add further penalty in the form of prejudicing their career. Any such adverse impact will negate their rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.”
Background of the case
Dr. Ankita Kailash Khandelwal, Dr. Hema Suresh Ahuja and Dr. Bhakti Arvind Mehare (the appellants), after completing MBBS course were pursuing Post Graduate Degree course (M.D.) in Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Topiwala National Medical College, Mumbai. Dr. Payal Tadvi was also student of Post Graduate Degree Course (M.D.) in Gynaecology and Obstetrics in the same college and was junior to the appellants. On 22.05.2019, Dr. Payal Tadvi committed suicide by hanging herself in her room and in the complaint lodged by her mother, it was stated that Dr. Payal Tadvi was harassed by the Appellants and that they were directly responsible for the suicide committed by her. Hence, a case was registered under Section 306 read with Section 34 IPC, under the provisions of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities), Act, 1989 and also under Section 4 of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999, following which the Appellants were suspended by the Dean of the Hospital and the College. The Appellants were arrested on 29.05.2019.
“During the course of investigation, statements of more than 100 witnesses were recorded by the Crime Branch. After completion of investigation, charge sheet running into 1200 pages was filed and the matter is still at the stage of consideration whether the charges are required to be framed or not.”
In the present case, the Supreme Court was called upon to consider the competing claims in such a way that the individual rights of the Appellants to pursue their courses of study are secured and, at the same time, the conduct of prosecution also runs smoothly and without any interference and possibility of witnesses getting won over.
Key points considered by the Court
- The Appellants before have completed two years out of three years’ of course.
- The Appellants do not appear to be original residents of Mumbai and, as such, it cannot be said that they or their families have deep-rooted presence in Mumbai.
- As noticed in Sumit Mehta v. State (NCT of Delhi), (2013) 15 SCC 570 , if the law presumes an accused to be innocent till his guilt is proved, the Appellants as presumably innocent persons, are entitled to all the fundamental rights including the right to liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and are entitled to pursue their course of study so long as exercise of said right does not hamper smooth conduct and progress of the prosecution.
- The stand taken by the State through the affidavit filed by the Deputy Secretary, Medical Education and Drugs Department, Government of Maharashtra, is that the Appellants can complete their Post Graduate course in future after conclusion of the trial. The Court, however, found this stand incorrect and said that even a convict is allowed to have academic pursuits while undergoing sentence and develop his potential as a human being to the fullest.
“The State apparatus must facilitate such pursuits rather than hamper any attempts in that behalf. The Appellants, therefore, by any standard, are entitled to continue their courses of study subject to the caveat expressed earlier.”
- It is a matter of record that the statements of all material witnesses have been recorded under Section 164 of the Code. In fact, the High Court went to the extent of ensuring that such statements are recorded so that witnesses could not be won over by the Appellants after they were enlarged on bail. Therefore, the apprehension that the witnesses could be influenced is not quite correct.
- The majority of witnesses to be examined by the prosecution appear to be in permanent employment of the College and the Hospital. It will be difficult to imagine that three lady doctors who do not otherwise belong to Mumbai will be able to influence any such witnesses by their mere presence in the College and the Hospital.
- The Appellants require to put in the last year of their course and the actual period that they need to undergo by way of training is only nine months.
“It is, thus, a question of putting those nine months in one scale and see whether the other scale becomes so weighty that the request to allow them to pursue their courses must be rejected.”
Considering the matter in its entirety and especially when the Appellants have to undergo training under the same guide and in the same institution where they were registered, the Court was of the opinion that ends of justice would be met if the Appellants are permitted to go back to the College and the Hospital to pursue their studies, subject to the following conditions:-
- The Appellants shall not, in any manner, influence or even attempt to influence any of the witnesses.
- The Appellants shall present themselves on each of the dates that the matter gets posted before the Trial Court, unless their presence is specifically exempted.
- If it is permissible, and subject to the appropriate permission from the Dean of the College and the Hospital, the Appellants may not reside in the quarters allocated to the residents in the College and the Hospital. However, if the registration as Post Graduate students requires the Appellants to be full time residents in the College and the Hospital, then the Appellants shall do so.
- The Appellants shall avail study leave so that their actual period of stay inside the College and the Hospital gets reduced to the maximum possible level.
- If there be any holiday or vacation and it is permissible for the residents to be outside the College and the Hospital, the Appellants shall avail that and keep themselves away from the Hospital and the College.
- If there be any untoward incident or even likelihood of such incident, the concerned authorities shall immediately report to the Police Station of the area and ensure that the life and liberty of everyone including the Appellants are well protected.
Making clear that the Appellants shall be permitted to pursue their courses of study regardless of the Order of Suspension dated 27.05.2019, the Court directed that
“This Order shall come into effect at the beginning of the second term of academic session 2020-2021 and if such term has already begun, it shall come into effect from 12.10.2020.”
[Ankita Kailash Khandelwal v. State of Maharashtra, CRIMINAL APPEAL Nos.660-662 OF 2020, 11.10.2020]