COURT DISMISSES PETITION ALLEGING CULPABLE HOMICIDE AND NEGLIGENCE IN CONSTRUCTION SITE INCIDENT, AFFIRMS SUFFICIENT GROUNDS TO PROCEED WITH CRIMINAL TRIAL AGAINST PETITIONERS: BOMBAY HIGH COURT
The High Court of Bombay passed a judgement on 04 May 2023 on a case involving allegations of culpable homicide and negligence at a construction site. The case of PINKESH DHIRAJ PATEL & ANR. VS. THE STATE OF MAHARASHTRA & ANR. IN CRIMINAL WRIT PETITION NO. 2879 OF 2022 which was passed by the division bench comprising of HONOURABLE SHRI JUSTICE SUNIL B. SHUKRE & HONOURABLE SHRI JUSTICE M.M. SATHAYE. The petitioners challenged the charge-sheet filed against them, arguing that the offense of culpable homicide was not applicable in their situation.
The case revolves around a charge-sheet filed against the petitioners under Section 304 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code. The petitioners contended that they should not be charged with culpable homicide as defined by Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code. They argued that the allegations made in the First Information Report (FIR) did not demonstrate any intention to cause death or inflict bodily injury likely to cause death, which are essential elements for culpable homicide.
The petitioners’ defence focused on the absence of overt acts on their part that would meet the requirements for culpable homicide. They emphasized that the FIR did not establish any criminal intention or knowledge on their part. They referred to a previous legal precedent, the case of Shantibhai J. Vaghela and Anr. v. State of Gujarat, to support their argument.
The respondent-state, represented by the learned Additional Public Prosecutor (APP), countered the petitioners’ claims. They argued that the specific allegations against the petitioners indicated their negligence in providing proper safety measures at the construction site. The respondent’s counsel highlighted that the tragic death occurred due to the petitioners’ failure to install safety belts and leaving dangerously exposed vertical iron bars in the column. They contended that the act of negligence led to the unfortunate incident, and it would be a matter for trial to determine if there was any intention on the part of the accused to cause a fatal injury.
Section 304 of the IPC: Deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, punishing those who cause death without fulfilling the criteria for murder.
Section 34 of the IPC: Holds individuals jointly liable for a criminal act when committed in furtherance of a common intention.
Section 299 of the IPC: Defines culpable homicide, involving the intentional causing of death or bodily injury likely to cause death.
Section 227 of the CrPC: Empowers the Sessions Court to discharge the accused if there is insufficient ground for proceeding with the case, requiring recording of reasons for the decision.
The court thoroughly analysed the arguments presented by both parties and referred to Section 227 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 227 stipulates that if, after considering the case record and the submissions of the accused and prosecution, the judge finds no sufficient grounds for proceeding against the accused, they may be discharged.
The court acknowledged the difference between what constitutes a sufficient ground for proceeding against the accused in a sessions trial and what constitutes the offense itself. It emphasized that the possibility of the accused’s acquittal does not negate the existence of sufficient grounds for proceeding.
In its ruling, the court recognized two aspects of the case: an omission on the part of the petitioners and an overt act. While the omission did not attract the offense of culpable homicide, the court found that the petitioners’ act of leaving dangerously exposed vertical iron bars, which were being used during construction work, could be considered an overt act.
The court concluded that prima facie evidence of an overt act, coupled with the knowledge of the potential harm it could cause, provided sufficient grounds for proceeding further with the criminal trial against the petitioners. It clarified that the final determination of the petitioners’ guilt or innocence would be a matter for trial.
Additionally, the court dismissed the documents presented by the petitioners, which allegedly showed the Labour Commissioner’s adjudication on the incident. It clarified that compensation granted by the Labour Commissioner does not equate to a finding of accidental death without criminal intention or knowledge.
Considering the analysis and considerations, the court dismissed the petition and held that there were sufficient grounds for proceeding with the criminal trial against the petitioners.
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JUDGEMENT REVIEWED BY VETHIKA D PORWAL, BMS COLLEGE OF LAW