Sikkim High Court: Bhaskar Raj Pradhan, J., dismissed a writ petition filed by the State seeking a writ for setting aside the show cause notice and orders passed by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) relating to the suicide of an under trial prisoner (UTP) Roshan Chettri in District Jail, Namchi, as being arbitrary and illegal.
NHRC had issued a show cause notice to the Chief Secretary of the petitioner in this relation further adding that the Investigation Division of NHRC after collecting/analyzing relevant reports/records has submitted that the deceased UTP was a covid-19 positive patient and was in quarantine along with another UTP. On 04.04.2020, at 11 a.m., the deceased made an attempt to commit suicide by hanging on the door of his cell with the help of cloth of the blanket provided to him but that act was noticed by his cell mate who caught hold his body and called out for help. Subsequently, jail authorities arrived and brought him down by cutting the blanket cloth. He was immediately shifted to hospital wherein he died during the treatment. The inquest and the Post Mortem Examination (PME) revealed no injury on the body of the deceased other than ligature marks, the cause of death was asphyxia due to hanging. The notice required the petitioner to show cause as to why monetary compensation of Rs.3,75,000/- should not be recommended under section 18(a)(i) of the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, to be paid to the next of kin of the deceased Roshan Chettri.
The petitioner responded to the show cause notice stating that no case of negligence on the part of jail administration was found during the judicial enquiry by the Judicial Magistrate, South Sikkim at Namchi. In the meanwhile, Dilip Chettri, father of the deceased filed a writ petition praying for a direction upon the state respondents to pay compensation to the tune of Rs.20,00,000/- as well as for an independent investigation of the incident of the alleged suicide by a retired judge or a government officer or any other person as deemed fit. The writ petition was taken up by the Single Bench of this court and was dismissed in limine.
The petitioner claimed to be aggrieved on counts :
- that inspite of the dismissal of W.P.(C) No. 02 of 2021 (supra) by this court, the NHRC has passed the impugned orders which was barred by the principle of res judicata;
- that the show cause notice and the impugned orders did not disclose the commission of violation of human rights by the police authorities or the negligence of the police authorities in prevention of violation of human rights;
- that the NHRC could not have entertained the complaint under Regulation 9(xi) and 9(xii) of the National Human Rights Commission (Procedure) Regulations, 1994; and
- that the NHRC did not consider the final inquiry report dated 20-5-2021 of the learned Judicial Magistrate and the final report of the Namchi Police Station.
- It is further argued that merely because suicide took place during the day, it does not in any manner corroborate or substantiate that there was any negligence on the part of the police authorities.
The Court relied on the decision of the Supreme Court in Dario v. State of Uttar Pradesh, AIR 1961 SC 1457 and reiterated that if the petition is dismissed in limine without passing a speaking order then such dismissal cannot be treated as creating a bar of res judicata and although, prima facie, dismissal in limine even without passing a speaking order in that behalf may strongly suggest that the court took the view that there was no substance in the petition at all, but in the absence of the speaking order it would not be easy to decide what factors weighed in the mind of the court and that makes it difficult and unsafe to hold that such a summary dismissal is a dismissal on merits and as such constitutes a bar of res judicata.
The Court further held that the State is vicariously liable to compensate the next of kin of the deceased UTP. It is not the case of the petitioner that the jail was not under its control when the incident happened in the manner described and admittedly inside the jail.
The petition was finally dismissed holding it as misconceived.[State of Sikkim v. NHRC, 2021 SCC OnLine Sikk 183, decided on 03-12-2021]
Suchita Shukla, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
Mr Hissey Gyaltsen, Assistant Government Advocate for the petitioner.