Boss can’t be hunted down for workload related suicides

SC order could transform Indian offices


Rancho, in Three Idiots, had a nice argument on a student Joy Lobo’s suicide with the director of Imperial College of Engineering. He thought that Joy had committed suicide as he was unable to face the academic pressure exerted by the Director.

While he refused to accept the post mortem report calling the death a result of extreme pressure on Joy’s throat, the Director maintained that life does throw challenges. If someone commits suicide due to pressure and challenges, no one else can be accused for his suicide. The Supreme Court of India, in a decision on Wednesday, agreed with the Director. Its decision could have important workplace implications too.

The Supreme Court has ruled that superiors cannot be held responsible for abetment if an employee, depressed because of a heavy workload at office, commits suicide.

The superior officer assigning a load of work to an employee could not be assumed to be of a criminal bent of mind who intended to harass an employee or force him to end his life.

It rejected the argument of the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay HC that the officer was culpable even if there was no direct abetment on the grounds that the conditions created could lead to unbearable mental tension.

Kishor Parashar, working in the Aurangabad office of the deputy director of education in Maharashtra government, committed suicide in August 2017. His wife filed a complaint with the police accusing her husband’s superior officer of abetting the suicide. She alleged the superior used to assign a heavy workload to Parashar, requiring him to work till late evening.

She said the senior called him for work at odd hours and also on holidays, stopped salary for a month and threatened to stop increment. She claimed her husband remained silent at home and the superior was responsible for his suicide. After the Aurangabad police registered an FIR, the senior officer moved the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay HC for quashing the FIR.

On January 23, the HC rejected the plea to quash the FIR saying, “The facts indicate that there was no direct abetment and the applicants cannot have any intention that the deceased should commit suicide. Even when the accused persons have no such intention, if they create a situation causing mental tension so as to drive the person to commit suicide, they can be said to be instigating the accused to commit suicide.”

When the superior officer appealed before the SC, the plea was opposed by the Maharashtra government’s standing counsel Nishant Katneswarkar. A bench of Justice Arun Mishra and Justice U U Lalit found the HC’s logic in roping in the superior officer on the charge of abetting suicide untenable.

Justice Lalit, who authored the judgment, said, “It is true that if a situation is created deliberately so as to drive a person to commit suicide, there would be room for attracting Section 306 of the IPC (abetment to suicide).

However, the facts on record in the present case are inadequate and insufficient (to reach that conclusion).” The bench quashed the FIR against the superior officer.

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