Intention or knowledge needed to be present to make an act one of culpable homicide: Bombay HC relief to Junior Doctor booked under IPC 304
Nagpur: Observing that there must be an act or omission coupled with the intention or knowledge on the part of the person and if there is no such act or omission, there would be no offence of culpable homicide, Bombay High Court has quashed an FIR against a junior doctor under Section 304 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) in a case involving the death of four infants at a hospital.
The case concerned a junior resident doctor at an Amravati-based Medical College. In 2017, four newborn babies admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of the Department of Paediatrics at the Medical College, Amravati died unfortunately due to the administration of the wrong injection by the nursing staff on duty. The nurse had allegedly administered the babies with the drug "Potassium Chloride" instead of injection "Calcium Gluconate", as prescribed.
The junior doctor was found to be absent at that particular time despite his duty being assigned. He was named in the charge-sheet under Section 304 read with Section 34 of IPC, by Amravati police and was made accused of not taking proper care and the deaths were attributed to him.
Challenging the charge-sheet, the doctor had approached the HC.
The petitioner had stated before the court that on the fatal day he was present in the ward during night time, around 10.30 p.m. when the duty nurse informed him about the deteriorating conditions of the newborns. After getting the information, the petitioner doctor immediately reached the NICU and started resuscitation. When the condition deteriorated further he informed other junior doctors and later the seniors were also informed.
The counsel for the petitioner doctor argued before the court that naming the petitioner in the charge-sheet under Section 304 read with Section 34 of I.P.C. was clearly not justified. Submitting that the fatal injection "Potassium Chloride" (Kesol) was never prescribed by the petitioner, he further explained before the court that the definition of "culpable homicide: as contained in Section 299 and the Exceptions – 1 to 3 of Section 300 of the IPC couldn't be made out against the petitioner as there was no intention or knowledge on part of the petitioner as was necessary to attract those sections.
Pointing out that the accused nurse had admitted her mistake; the counsel for the petitioner doctor further contended before the court that at most a departmental action could be taken against the petitioner doctor for his absence in the NICU at a particular time on the given day.
On the other hand, the counsel appearing for the state had contended that it was the duty of the petitioner doctor to ensure that proper drugs were administered, in which he had failed. Further submitting that the fact-finding committee in its report had also recommended action against the petitioner doctor, the counsel for the State contended that the petitioner doctor had been correctly prosecuted under Section 304 of I.P.C.
The HC bench comprising of Justice Sunil B. Shukre and Avinash G. Ghatore took note of the fact that the petitioner doctor had neither been present at the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at that time, nor had he administered the injections that caused the fatal death of the newborns.
Mentioning that the material in the charge-sheet is not indicative of the petitioner doctor committing an offence under Section 304 of I.P.C, the High Court observed,
"Considering the allegations as levelled against the petitioner, of his absence in the NICU at the relevant time, would, even if everything as mentioned in the charge-sheet was presumed to be true, at the most, may lay blame of dereliction of duty at his doorstep, for which Departmental action can always be taken by the authorities."
The court noted that the fatal drug in the case, i.e. "Potassium Chloride" was an emergency drug injection that usually remained in the custody of the in-charge sister of the NICU. The injection which had been administered to the infants had been a leftover injection used in a previous case and it had been kept in the emergency kit for emergency use. Thus, the court noted,
"The petitioner had no role to play in the entire matter, either of prescribing the drug, storing the same or of administering the same." The CCTV footage of the given date also supported this point.
The court further took note of the fact that the prescribed drug, "Calcium Gluconate" was required to be administered muscularly by injection, as against "Potassium Chloride" which needed to be administered intravenously, after diluting it properly. However, the on-duty nurse had directly administered the injection "Potassium Chloride" muscularly, which resulted in the untimely and unfortunate demise of the newborns.
Noting that the petitioner doctor had been charged with Section 304 of the I.P.C. which amounts to the offence of "culpable homicide", the Court discussed the definition of the same in the Indian Penal Code.
Accordingly, the court noted,
"For something to be regarded as culpable homicide as contemplated under Section 299 of the Indian Penal Code, there must be an act or omission coupled with the intention or knowledge as contemplated in Section 299 of the I.P.C. on the part of the person."
However, considering the facts of the case the HC bench found no such charges against the petitioner doctor.
Further, taking note of the rules or regulations of Standard Operating Procedure the Court noted that there hadn't been any rule or protocol which would make it mandatory for the doctors to personally supervise or monitor everything where trained nurses were employed. Thus, considering the three duties- duty to take care, breach of duty, and consequential damage, the case had failed to attract any criminal offence against the petitioner doctor.
Taking note of all these facts and after listening to all the arguments by both the parties, the HC bench finally noted,
"There is absolutely no material available on record showing, prima facie, that offense of culpable homicide not amounting to murder punishable under Section 304 of I.P.C. is constituted against the present petitioner. Continuation of these proceedings against the present petitioner, in the present circumstances, would clearly be an abuse of process of law, which cannot be permitted."
Finally considering the allegations related to the absence of the petitioner doctor at NICU at the fatal time, the Court quashed the FIR against the petitioner doctor in relief to him.
To view the original court order, click on the link below.