“The problem of toxic work culture is problem plaguing all booming economies”; Delhi High Court grants anticipatory bail to the Secretary of Central Board of Irrigation and Power accused of abetting suicide

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: The Single Judge Bench of Jasmeet Singh, J., allowed the anticipatory bail application in a case where the Chief Manager, the Director, and the Secretary (‘applicant') of the Central Board of Irrigation and Power were accused of abetting suicide of the finance and administration manager by hanging herself from the ceiling fan.

The complainant stated that the applicant failed to forward multiple complaints made by the deceased and take corrective measures on the same, in return encouraging a hostile environment at office. The complainant while relying on Supreme Court judgment in Sumitha Pradeep v. Arun Kumar CK (2022) SCC OnLine SC 1529 contended that the applicant's inaction to improve the hostile environment at the deceased's workplace comes within the parameters of abetment under the provision of Section 107 of the Penal Code, 1860 (‘IPC')

The Court noted that neither the resignation email sent by the deceased cast any aspersion of creating a hostile environment by the Applicant but instead was thanking the applicant for the years of fulfilling employment nor the suicide note indicated the applicant abetting the suicide. The suicide note indicated the Chief Manager's and Director's behaviour to be haunting the deceased who had been granted bail by the competent courts of jurisdiction.

The Court observed that the applicant's inaction on the email of the deceased at best be a dereliction of duty by did not come within the purview of ‘illegal omission' under Section 107 of the IPC, as the applicant was not legally bound to act on the email.

The Court further observed that “the problem of toxic work culture is problem plaguing all booming economies. In Japan, there is a term used for the same called ‘karoshi' which means ‘overwork deaths', i.e., a large number of deaths caused on account of hostile working environment which causes physical and mental stress. The government of Japan acknowledged this as a socio-economic problem and not a criminal offence.”

The Court opined that death caused due to overwork and toxic work environment is a social problem which requires the government, the labour unions, the health officials and corporates to formulate appropriate policies.

The Court while allowing the anticipatory bail application held that the death of the deceased was attributable to mental stress, which cannot be brought within the parameters of Section 107 of IPC.

[V.K. Kanjlia v. State of NCT of Delhi, 2023 SCC OnLine Del 253, decided on 19-01-2023]

*Judgement by Justice Jasmeet Singh

Advocates who appeared in this case :

For the applicant- Senior Advocate Ramesh Gupta, Advocate Sanjay Dewan, Advocate Sanjay Aggarwal and Advocate Shivani Pruthi

For the respondent- Additional Public Prosecutor Ajay Vikram Singh and Advocate R. Ramachandran

*Simran Singh, Editorial Assistant has put this report together.

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