"The criminal justice system of ours can itself be a punishment," the Supreme Court observed while discharging three accused in an alleged abetment of suicide case which was registered way back in 2008 in Punjab.
The apex court observed that the appeals, arising out of the April 2009 verdict of the Punjab and Haryana high court which had dismissed the pleas filed by the three accused assailing the trial court's order framing charges against them in the case, remained pending for 13 years.
"The criminal justice system of ours can itself be a punishment! It is exactly what has happened in this case," a bench of Justices S K Kaul and A S Oka said in its order passed on November 24.
"Fourteen years on an issue of abetment of suicide in an episode where a student was reprimanded for misconduct in college and an endeavour to take disciplinary action and call the father, though the parent did not turn up, and subsequently the child committed suicide. An unfortunate situation!," it said.
Noting the facts of the case, the bench said on April 16, 2008, the student, who later committed suicide, was attending a lecture under one of the accused and was alleged to have misbehaved with him in the class under the influence of alcohol.
Later, an order was passed suspending the student from the class and calling upon him to call his parents as an exercise of legitimate disciplinary action.
The bench noted that the student, instead of complying with the disciplinary action, chose to take his own life by jumping in the canal and before doing so, he had sent an SMS to his brother.
On the complaint of his father, an FIR was lodged in April 2008 for the alleged offence under section 306 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) claiming that the suicide was instigated by the three accused -- the teacher, the head of the department and the principal.
A charge sheet was filed in September 2008 and charges were framed against the accused in April 2009.
They moved the high court against the order framing charges against them, but the petition was dismissed.
"The present appeals were preferred assailing that order (of the high court) and interim stay was granted at the threshold. The trial of course naturally did not proceed in view of the stay by this court. The matter has rested at that for the last 13 years!," the apex court said.
The bench noted that the charge sheet is "simply an incorporation" of what the complainant has said.
"It is the say of the father, complainant (who was certainly not present to witness what happened) that some students were causing the noise and it was not the son/deceased," it said.
The bench said on the perusal of the charge sheet, it was found that there was no other independent witness whose statement was recorded or who was cited as a witness to the actual incident.
The bench said it did not find an iota of material on record, even assuming the complete charge sheet to be correct, which could lead to conviction in a case of abetment as there was absence of the necessary ingredients to make the offence.
"While we appreciate the anguish of a father who has lost a young son, that cannot result in blaming the world (in the present case, the institution and its teachers) for what is a basic disciplinary action necessary for running the institute," it said.
"A contra position would create a lawless and unmanageable situation in an educational institution," the bench said.
It noted that the anguish of the father ought not to have been converted into a case of abetment of suicide and certainly, the investigation and the approach of the trial court could have been more realistic keeping in mind the surrounding facts and circumstances in which the suicide episode occurred.
"We, thus, set aside the order framing charges dated April 16, 2009 and impugned order of the high court sustaining the same and discharge the accused...," it said, while allowing the appeals.