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Head of educational institution must primafacie be satisfied to order suspension: SC



Ankita Kailash Khandelwal and Ors. v. State of Maharashtra and Ors., Criminal Appeal Nos.660-662 OF 2020 [Arising Out of Special Leave Petition (Crl.) Nos.3083-3085 of 2020], 8 October, 2020.


Counsel for the Appellants: Senior Advocate Mr. Sidharth Luthra

Counsel for the respondents: Mr. Sachin Patil, Mr. Gaurav Sharma, learned Senior Advocate Ms. Indira Jaising, learned Senior Advocate Mr. B.H. Marlapalle.


The Hon’ble Supreme Court comprising of Justice Uday Umesh Lalit, Justice Vineet Saran, Justice Ajay Rastogi held in a case that the accused persons until proven guilty are entitled to all the fundamental rights including the right to liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution


Facts:

The Appellants after completing MBBS course were pursuing Post Graduate Degree course (M.D.) in Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Topiwala National Medical College, Mumbai (‘the College’, for short). They completed two years out of three years of course in April, 2019 and were working as residents in B.Y.L. Nair Charity Hospital (‘the Hospital’, for short) attached to the College. Dr. Payal Tadvi was also student of Post Graduate Degree Course (M.D.) in Gynaecology. She was a year junior to the Appellants. On 22.05.2019 at about 9:00 p.m., Agripada Police Station, Mumbai received information that Dr. Payal Tadvi had committed suicide by hanging herself in her room. Initially a case under Section 174 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 was recorded. After the complaint was lodged by the mother of Dr. Payal Tadvi that her daughter was harassed by the Appellants and that they were directly responsible for the suicide committed by her daughter, Crime No.157 of 2019 was registered against the Appellants under Section 306 read with Section 34 of the Indian Penal, under the provisions of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities), Act, 1989 and also under Section 4 of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999. By communication bearing No. NDN/172 dated 27.05.2019, taking cognizance of the FIR registered against them; the Appellants were suspended by the Dean of the Hospital and the College.

The Appellants were arrested on 29.05.2019. Bail Application No.1338 of 2019 preferred by the Appellants was rejected by the Court of Sessions (Gr. Bombay) at Bombay by order dated 24.06.2019. The Appellants, being aggrieved, filed Criminal Appeal No.911 of 2019 under Section 14A (2) of 1989 Act in the High Court. The High Court granted bail to the appellants with stringent conditions by order dated 09.08.2019. Interim Applications No.2, 3 and 4 of 2019 were preferred by the Appellants seeking relaxation of condition nos.(iii), (iv) and (v) imposed in order dated 09.08.2019 passed by the High Court. the aforesaid condiyions prevented them from moving outside Mumbai, entering the college and the hospital, and suspended their license respectively. The high court, in the interim order, after detailed perusal by its order dated 21.02.2020 relaxed condition no.(iii). It also recalled condition no.(v) as in its view, suspension of licences as ordered by the High Court was without jurisdiction and that in terms of Section 22(1) of the Maharashtra Medical Council Act, 1965 the action in that behalf could be taken by the Council. The High Court had issued notice to the Medical Council of India to explore the possibility as to whether the Appellants could seek migration to any other Colleges. However, in view of the submission by the State, the High Court refused to relax condition no.(iv). It is against this order, the Appellants have approached the Supreme Court.


Question of law:

The question of law in the case was whether the rights of the accused under Article 21 of the Constitution can be limited on the ground that their actions may be prejudicial to the trial?


Appellants’ Contentions:

i) Counsel for the Appellants made references to Sumit Mehta vs. State (NCT of Delhi) and Kunar Kumar Tiwari alias Kunar Kumar vs. State of Bihar and another, and submitted that the conditions under section 437(3) cannot be arbitrary, fanciful or extend beyond the ends of the provision.

ii) Condition no.(iv), as imposed, is resulting in negation of the rights of the Appellants to continue their studies in the College and thus directly infringes their rights guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.

iii) The Appellants have completed two years of three years’ course and what they may be required to put in for the third year of course will be just about nine months of actual residency as the students are normally entitled to study leave for three months. Thus, it would be a question of accommodation for nine months.

iv) In any case, as observed by the High Court in the order dated 09.08.2019, statements under Section 164 of the Code of all material witnesses having been recorded, there would be no occasion even to apprehend any attempt on part of the Appellants to influence any of the witnesses.

v) The Order of Suspension dated 27.05.2019 was purely based on the FIR lodged against the Appellants. The suspension of two of the Appellants by the Maharashtra Medical Council was again based on direction (v) issued by the High Court in order 09.08.2019. In any case, said suspension by the Maharashtra Medical Council now stands revoked.


Respondents’ Contentions:

Counsels for the respondents submitted that

i) The Suspension Order dated 27.05.2019 issued under the signature of the Dean of the Hospital and the College still being in existence and force, the Appellants cannot be allowed to go back to their course of study

ii) For a student undergoing Post Graduation course, he/she must be attached to a particular Guide and the student is not allowed to change the Guide during the course. Hence, they cannot be transferred to another college.

iii) The Order of Suspension dated 27.05.2019 was based on the report of the Anti-Ragging Committee and that neither there was any challenge to the Order of Suspension nor was said suspension revoked. It is submitted that in the face of suspension by the College, the Appellants cannot be allowed to resume their course of study.

iv) Once the Order of Suspension is in force, in terms of Regulation 8.1 of 2009 Regulations, the Appellants would not be allowed to attend any class and have academic privileges. The Complainant had not challenged the order granting bail as the order came with the condition that the Appellants would not be allowed to enter the College.


Judgment:

The Court ,after referring to sections 4,5, and 6 of the Maharashtra Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999, clause 13 of the Medical Council of India Post Graduate Medical Education Regulations, 2000 and Paras 7 and 8 of the Medical Council of India (Prevention and Prohibition of Ragging in Medical Colleges/Institutions) Regulations, 2009, the judgments of the Supreme Court in Sumit Mehta vs. State (NCT of Delhi)2 and Kunar Kumar Tiwari alias Kunar Kumar vs. State of Bihar and another, heard the competing claims of the parties in length and onserved the following:

24. b) As noticed by this Court in Sumit Mehta, if the law presumes an accused to be innocent till his guilt is proved, the Appellants as presumably innocent persons, are entitled to all the fundamental rights including the right to liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution and are entitled to pursue their course of study so long as exercise of said right does not hamper smooth conduct and progress of the prosecution.

The Court, while explaining that the order of suspension was passed because of the FIR and not by virtue of the powers under regulation 8.1 of the medical council of India or under section 6(1) of the 1999 Act, observed the following:

26. The Order of Suspension does not even record any such finding or prima facie view. As a matter of fact, the Order of Suspension was not passed by virtue of power entrusted under Section 6(1) of 1999 Act but was based on the grounds that the Appellants were creating hurdles in the enquiry by the police and that there was an FIR against them. We, thus, conclude that the Order of Suspension is not referable to Section 6(1) of 1999 Act.

To conclude, the court, while bringing out that the Order of Suspension was passed purely as a result of registration of crime and did not have any roots in statutory powers conferred under Section 6 of Prohibition of Ragging Act, 1999 Act, explained the balance between the fundamental right of the accused under Article 21 and the process of trial in the following words:

31. While balancing the competing claims, in our view, the Appellants must be allowed to go back to their courses of study otherwise the pendency of prosecution against them will add further penalty in the form of prejudicing their career. Any such adverse impact will negate their rights under Article 21 of the Constitution.
32. Considering the matter in its entirety and especially when the Appellants have to undergo training under the same guide and in the same institution where they were registered, in our considered view, ends of justice would be met if condition no. (iv) as laid down by the High Court is relaxed and the Appellants are permitted to go back to the College and the Hospital to pursue their studies,

The court went on to laid conditions for allowing the Appellants into the college. Subject to the conditions, the appellants shall be permitted to re-enter the College and the Hospital to pursue their courses of study.

Kalidharun K M.


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