Government to repeal section that makes suicide attempt illegal

Government to repeal section that makes suicide attempt illegal

Attempting suicide may not attract jail in the near future with the government planning to repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) that makes the act punishable with a prison term of up to one year and fine.

The government’s move is in line with the recommendation of the Law Commission report on “Humanisation and Decriminalisation of Attempt to Suicide,” which had termed the jail term as “inhuman, irrespective of whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional”.

The Home Ministry recently informed the Lok Sabha that it is in the process of “effacing Section 309 of the IPC” as recommended by the Law Commission in its report. Kiren Rijiju, minister of state for home, said in a written reply to the Lok Sabha that discussions in this regard are on. Rijiju also referred to the Law Commission report on decriminalising attempt to suicide.

The Supreme Court had in 1994 decriminalised attempt to suicide, saying Section 309 violates Article 21 of the Constitution that talks about Right to Life. The apex court had then felt that the right to live that Article 21 speaks of could be said to bring in its trail the right not to live a forced life.

However, two years later the Supreme Court overruled the 1994 judgement holding that Article 21 cannot be construed to include within it the "Right to Die" as a part of the fundamental right guaranteed therein, and therefore, it cannot be said that Section 309 is violative of Article 21. The 210th report was not the first time that the Law Commission recommended the repeal of Section 309. In its 42nd Report submitted in 1971, the commission had recommended the repeal of Section 309.

The Indian Penal Code (Amendment) Bill, 1978, as passed by the Rajya Sabha provided for omission of Section 309, but before it could be passed by the Lok Sabha, the Lower House was dissolved and the Bill lapsed.

In a letter to the then law minister H R Bharadwaj, Law Commission Chairman Justice A R Lakshmanan, who prepared the 210th report, had said: “It is felt that attempt to suicide may be regarded more as a manifestation of a diseased condition of mind deserving treatment and care rather than an offence to be visited with punishment." 

In the report, the Commission said Section 309 needs to be deleted because the provision is inhuman, irrespective of whether it is constitutional or unconstitutional. The repeal of the anachronistic law would relieve the distressed of his suffering, it said.

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