Thursday, May 11, 2006

Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar

Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar

Right to Information in India

Here is my article on Right to Information in India. Right to Information Act 2005 came into existance on National level in June 2005 and was completely implemented in October 2005.

Right to Information

-Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar[i]

The Right to Information movement has begun in India when Ms Aruna Roy took the initiative in Rajasthan to get accountability in the functioning of the state government.

The Indian Evidence Act also talks about similar right when it provides for getting a certified copy of any document kept by any public authority.[1] The Indian Evidence Act, 1872 gives a right to inspect any public document and even get a certified copy of it by paying a legal fee. Such a copy is considered as good as the original copy of the public document for all legal purposes. Though this right was only used to get the certified copies of the court judgments and documents, which were primarily of use in the courts.

The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has also interpreted fundamental rights incorporated in articles 19 (1) (a) and 21 of the Constitution of India and said that the Right to Information is the fundamental right of the citizens of India. In R P Lmited v. Indian Express Newspapers[2], the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India has ruled that the Right to Know is a basic right which citizens of a free country aspire in the broader horizon of the right to live in this age in our land under Article 21 of our Constitution. Again in State of UP v. Raj Narain[3], the Hon’ble Supreme court of India had taken a very bold stand. In this case, Justice Mathew ruled that in a government of responsibility like ours, where all the agents of the public must be responsible for their conduct, there can be but few secrets. The people of this country have a right to know every public act, everything that is done in a public way by their public functionaries. They are entitled to know the particulars of every public transaction in all its bearing. Their right to know, which is derived from the concept of freedom of speech, though not absolute, is a factor, which should make one wary when secrecy is claimed for transactions, which can at any rate have no repercussion on public security. But the legislative wing of the State did not respond to it by enacting suitable legislation for protecting the right of the people. (sic) The Hon’ble Court has shown resentment over over-use of the government privilege under section 123[4] of the Evidence Act, 1872 that was under the review in this case.
Mr. Soli Sorabji, a constitutional expert, and former Attorney General of India feels that It was in 1982 that the right to know matured to the status of a constitutional right in the celebrated case of S P Gupta vs. Union of India[5](popularly known as Judges Transfer Case). The Supreme Court by a generous interpretation of the guarantee of freedom of speech and expression elevated the right to know and the right to information to the status of a fundamental right, on the principle that certain unarticulated rights are immanent and implicit in the enumerated guarantees. The Supreme Court has emphasised that open Government is the new democratic culture of an open society towards which every liberal democracy is moving and our country should be no exception. In a country like India, which is committed to socialistic pattern of society, right to know becomes a necessity for the poor, ignorant and illiterate masses and this right is drawn from right of free speech and expression guaranteed under article 19 (1) (a). The Hon’ble court in S.P. Gupta case held that where a society has chosen to accept democracy as its credal faith, it is elementary that the citizens ought to know what their Government is doing. The citizens have a right to decide by whom and by what rules they shall be governed and they are entitled to call on those who govern on their behalf to account for their conduct. No democratic Government can survive without accountability and the basic postulate of accountability is that the people should have information about the functioning of the Government. It is only if people know how Government is functioning that they can fulfil the role which democracy assigns to them and make democracy a really effective participatory democracy…The citizens’ right to know the facts, the true facts, about the administration of the country is thus one of the pillars of a democratic State. And that is why the demand for openness in the Government is increasingly growing in different parts of the world. In Secy., Ministry of Information and Broadcasting v. Cricket Assn. of Bengal[6] while dealing with the telecast rights of a person to telecast a sports event and quoted article 10 of the European Commission on Human Rights and observed that the true democracy cannot exist unless all citizens have a right to participate in the affairs of the polity of the country. The right to participate in the affairs to the country is meaningless unless the citizens are well informed on all sides of the issues, in respect of which they are called upon to express their views. In this judgment the court underlined the importance of the right to information of the common man. In a case dealing with the disclosure of the Vohra Committee Reports the Hon’ble Supreme Court has acknowledged the importance of the participatory democracy and the right to know about the affairs of the government. The Hon’ble Court in Dinesh Trivedi v. Union of India[7] commented that in modern constitutional democracies, it is axiomatic that citizens have a right to know about the affairs of the Government which, having been elected by them, seeks to formulate sound policies of governance aimed at their welfare.

Indian Movements

Ms Aruna Roy, in early 1990s took lead in Rajasthan for the Right to Information movement. She demanded the information from the Government which were directly related to the welfare of the common mass. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) set up by her in Bhim Tehsil of Rajasthan made the government to reveal information, which were kept confidential till date. MKSS took the initiative primarily in matters related to the minimum wages to the workers in government projects. When the bureaucracy became unresponsive, MKSS started to take judicial remedies. In the meantime, when these cases were pending, MKSS started to look for the alternatives to solve these problems. Some officials did provide some information sought by MKSS and on their verifications, widespread corruption in the government projects surfaced. Not only were workers being denied minimum wages but the records also showed that large sums of money were diverted from projects as a result of blatant fraud. Names of non-existent workers were listed on records, and a nexus of elected representatives and government officials to fraudulently obtain funds from development accounts used bills for non-existent purchases. The Jan Sunwai, the public hearing, where the accounts of public expenditures on development works in a village are accessed, collated, and distributed among villagers, led to disclosures of large scale corruption and the government was forced to take corrective action. In the Jan Sunwai the media, government officials, local elected representatives, and all residents of the area are invited to attend the hearing. A formal discussion is held on each of the projects and development expenditures involving the villagers (who are the workers in question) and the officials.[8] This initiative of MKSS made the implementation of government projects more accountable and people centric. This movement underlined the right to information of the common man and as a result National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI) started in late 1990s. With this the Right to Information campaign spread over other parts of the nation and as a result various state governments passed the Right to Information legislations. Tamil Nadu became the first state in India to enact its Right to information Act in 1997. Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Maharastra, Gujarat, Delhi and Kerala followed suit in coming years and enacted similar laws for their states. But at union level, there was still no enactment until 2000 when Freedom of Information Act was passed.

Countdown Begins

In 1996, Justice P B Sawant, Chairman of the Press Council of India at that time, drafted a bill in this regard. This bill took all governmental and non-governmental entities, which perform public functions, into the purview of the Right to information. On 2nd January 1997, Government of India set up a working group on Right to Information and Promotion of Open and Transparent Government’ under the chairmanship of Mr. H D Shouri. The committee came up with detailed report and Draft Freedom of Information Bill on 24th May 1997. This draft provided that not only the Central and the State Ministries, but also public sector undertakings, municipal bodies and panchayats and other bodies substantially funded by Government, would come within the purview of the Act. Later the Consumer Education Research Council (CERC) draft also came up. It was by far the most detailed proposed freedom of information legislation in India. In 1997, a conference of chief ministers resolved that the central and state governments would work together on transparency and the right to information. Following this, the Centre agreed to take immediate steps, in consultation with the states, to introduce freedom of information legislation, along with amendments to the Official Secrets Act and the Indian Evidence Act, before the end of 1997. The central and state governments also agreed to a number of other measures to promote openness. These included establishing accessible computerised information centres to provide information to the public on essential services, and speeding up ongoing efforts to computerise government operations. In this process, particular attention would be placed on computerisation of records of particular importance to the people, such as land records, passports, investigation of offences, administration of justice, tax collection, and the issue of permits and licences.[9]

International practices

Sweden was the first country in the world to enact the Right to Information Act as early as 1774. In USA, the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966 and amended in 1974 and 1986. This act obligates the Government authorities (Agencies) to publish some basic information regarding the functioning of that agency and there is a duty on the agencies also to provide certain documents for public inspection and copying. The United Nations also recognised freedom of information as a fundamental right within the UN. In 1946, at its first session, the UN General Assembly adopted Resolution 59(1), which stated: "Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and … the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the UN is consecrated." In 1948, the UN General Assembly also adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which guarantees freedom of opinion and expression: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was adopted by the General Assembly in 1966. This guaranteed: a) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of opinion; b) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any media of his choice; and c) The exercise of the rights … carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary.[10] In 1980, in the meeting of the Law Ministers of Commonwealth nations at Barbados agreed that public participation in the democratic and governmental process was at its most meaningful when citizens had adequate access to official information. This has made various commonwealth countries to have Right to Information legislations. Till date, 12 out of 53 commonwealth nations have enacted Right to Information laws.

Indian Law

For the first time in 2000, the Freedom of Information Act was passed by the parliament of India. This enactment never came into force as the appointment the officers to execute the act and the modalities to enforce the act were never notified. This act was a weak legislation and was not at all operational. This enactment was replaced by Right to Information Act, 2005 which came into force from 12th October 2005. Prior to this date modalities like appointment of Public Information Officers (PIOs) and other modalities were completed. Now this act is in force and can be used in every state of India.

Provisions of the Act

In every public office, there is a provision of appointment of Public Information Officers (PIOs) to accept the application under this act and to provide information to the applicant. The Public Information Officers (PIOs) are the link between the public authorities and the citizens seeking the information. The act also provides for appointment of Assistant Public Information Officers (APIOs) as well to accept the applications and forward those to the Public Information Officers (PIOs) for further actions.

To obtain the information from a public authority, the applicant is required to apply in writing or through electronic means, (in English, Hindi or in the official language of that area.) with following details:
J Particulars of the information sought
J Details necessary to contact the applicant.
Apart from these the applicant is not required to divulge any other information like purpose of seeking the information or otherwise, to the public authority. He is required to deposit a fee of Rs. 10/- for each application to the accounts officer designated for this purpose. The fee can even be deposited in form of drafts as well. In case of the applicant being a person from below poverty line, no fee will be charged from him.

The PIOs are required to furnish the information within 30 days from the receipt of the application. In calculation of this period, 5 days are additionally added, if the application is deposited to the APIOs. Further, if the applicant seeks information, where the third party is affected, an additional 10 days will be added, which is necessary for obtaining clearance from the third party. If the information is in form of hard or soft copy of any document, the PIOs are required to inform the applicant to deposit the cost of copying the document. Such information must state exact cost of the copy and the calculations by which such figure is reached at. The period from the intimation of such cost to the depositing the cost to the public authority by the applicant is not added in the stipulated 30 days period. In cases, where the life and liberty is at stake, or is in question, the PIOs are required to furnish the information within 48 hours of receiving the application.

The PIOs are to inform the applicant about the rejection of the application within that period of 30 days, if his application has been rejected. In such a case, the PIOs are required to give reasons for the rejection of the application and also the information about the Appellate Authority for filing the appeal and the stipulated period by which such appeal can be filed. For disposing the appeals, the Appellate Authority in every Public Authority is also appointed as per the provisions of the act. The apex body of the Appellate Authority is also created which is known as ‘Central Information Commissioner’ at Union level and ‘State Information Commissioner’. The final appeal lies in these offices. The Central/ State Information Commissioners are given powers of a Civil Court under the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908 to deal with the appeals. He is also given powers to impose penalties to the erring official in cases where the orders are of the Central/ State Information Commissioners are not complied with or there is no reasonable reason to refuse the application for the information or there is an unreasonable delay in giving the information.

The public authority is under no obligation to divulge any information to the applicant, if sections 8 & 9 of the act cover it. These sections prohibit publication of that information which largely affects the sovereignty and integrity of the country. Any information, which affects the security concerns of the nation or deals with the matters where the trade secret, intellectual property matters, and even the deliberations with the foreign nations are involved, are largely covered by these sections. This act does not apply to the intelligence and security organisations, which are specified in Second Schedule of the Act.

Errors in the Act

The Right to Information Act, 2005 provides that the information regarding the life and liberty of the person is to be furnished within 48 hours. But in case of failure in doing so, or rejecting the information, there is no time limit set for the appellate authority. The first appeal is to be disposed off even in this case, in 30 days. Further there is no time limit to dispose off the cases pending at Information Commission levels.

Again, the accepted modes of payment of fee for obtaining the information are cash, or through bank draft/ banker’s cheques. No other mode of payment of fees like postal order, postal stamps, credit cards or any other modes are not recognised.

Further more there is no penalty, if the public office does not appoint the PIO in time. In case of failure to display basic information in every public office as provided in the act, there is no penal clause and no responsibility is fixed against any public officer.

In Conclusion

With the enactment and implementation of the Right to Information Act, 2005 India has stepped from the age of secrecy to the age of knowledge. The Right To Information Act, 2005 has given a tool into the hands of the citizens of India to demand from their elected representatives lawfully to give details of the functioning of the Government and the account of the spending of their taxes. But there is a need to develop a forum where the information gathered from the Government authorities can be questioned and scrutinised. Now, apart from the doors of the courts, there is no such platform, where the information of the Government can be challenged. Though, in rural areas, with the development of Panchayati Raj Institutions, there is a forum to challenge the information gathered from these agencies. But there is no such forum at the urban areas as there is nothing like “Gram Sabha” in Urban Local Bodies. It’s a matter of development of such forums where the information from the Government Bodies can be challenged and questioned in easier and effective manner.

The transition from an opaque system of governance, legitimised by the colonial Official Secrets Act, to one where citizens can demand the right to information marks a significant shift for Indian democracy, for the greater the access of citizens to information, the greater the responsiveness of government to community needs

© Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar, 2005
[1] Section 76 of the Indian Evidence Act, which reads: 76. Certified copies of Public Documents - Every public officer having the custody of a public document, which any person has a right to inspect, shall give that person on demand a copy of it on payment of the legal fees therefor together with a certificate written at the foot of such copy that it is a true copy of such document or part thereof, as the case may be, and such certificate shall be dated and subscribed by such officers with his name and his official title, and shall be sealed whenever such officer is authorized by law to make use of a seal, and such copies so certified shall be called certified copies.
Explanation - Any officer who, by the ordinary course of official duty, is authorized to deliver such copies, shall be deemed to have the custody of such documents or parts of the public documents of which they purport to be copies.
[2] 1989 AIR SC 190: 1988 SCC (4) 592
[3] AIR 1975 SC 865
[4] Section 123 reads: 123. Evidence as to affairs of State - No one shall be permitted to give any evidence derived from unpublished official records relating to any affairs of State, except wit the permission of the officer at the head of the department concerned, who shall give or withhold such permission as he thinks fit.
[5] 1981 Supp SCC 87: AIR 1982 SC 149
[6] (1995) 2 SCC 161 at p 229
[7] (1997) 4 SCC 306 at p 314
[i] The author is a final year student of Law Centre-I, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, Delhi. His email address is


I once wrote an essay for Manupatra Law Students Essay Competiton 2005. Here is that essay:

Diyya Jyoti Jaipuriar*

Voluntary ending of one’s own life is the common thread running through the concepts of euthanasia and suicide. On suicide, the society has always had a strong opinion. But the debate on euthanasia is of a recent origin. The moral bases of the two are quite distinct and so are their estimations. While suicide is often considered a “dishonourable exit” (exception notwithstanding), euthanasia retains certain degree of honour for the dead.
Religion, which has always a significant role in moulding the thought process of the societies around the world, has taken a stand on euthanasia by generally condemning it, by calling it interference in God’s ways of the world. But the debate goes on from Karen Aim Quinlan to “Diane to K. Venkatesh to Terri Schindler Schiavo, spreading across time and spatial dimensions.

What is Euthanasia?
The term euthanasia has its origin in the Greek term “en thanetos” which means “good or easy death”
The declaration on euthanasia “lura at bona”[i] issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on may, 05th 1980, define euthanasia as “an action or omission which in itself or by intention causes death in order that all suffering may in this way be eliminated”.
Distinctions are often made based on patient’s consent to euthanasia (voluntary/ involuntary), or between euthanasia by action and by omission. Physician - assisted is the case where a physician provides information, guidance and means to a person to take his/ her own life.
Euthanasia: options divided
There have been several attempts to legalise euthanasia. Few have succeeded. In 1906, the bill for voluntary euthanasia was defeated in the state of Ohio[ii] (USA) legislature by a vote of twenty three to seventy one. In 1936, “Voluntary Euthanasia Bill” could not be passed after been introduced in House of the Lords in England. Similar bill was rejected in the New York in 1939. In 1994, Oregon voters approved by a 51-49 percent vote the Death with Dignity Act. In 2002, Netherlands and Belgium passed similar laws to allow voluntary euthanasia and physician-assisted euthanasia. The shrill over euthanasia has kept on rising. Opinions stand sharply divided.

Euthanasia and personal liberty
The supporters of euthanasia often consider a question of one’s right to die. They believe that euthanasia aim at reducing suffering and ensure honourable exit rather than helpless degeneration. But, those who oppose euthanasia argue that human dignity involves the heroic acceptance or going to a higher purpose of existence
Mahatma Gandhi considered Euthanasia as an act of non violence and insisted that the critics of euthanasia was wrong in assuming that death was always worse than life. He believed that if life was painful and unbearable, not to kill was an act of Himsa (Violence).
Similarly Acharya Vinoba Bhave[iii], one of the greatest visionaries in the twentieth century India preferred an end when life’s mission could not be carried any further. But the critics feel that the perceived “right to die” increasingly matures into a “duty to die” when euthanasia is offered as a remedy to undignified living. The old in Netherlands reportedly fear being admitted to a hospital for their age related ailments lest they would be sanctioned to die in a country where euthanasia is in vogue for quite some time now.

Euthanasia and Medical Ethics
The Hippocratic Oath prohibits a doctor from offering death to his patients and this is often offered as an argument against physician- assisted euthanasia. However the House of Lords in Airedale NHS Trust verses Bland (1993) 2 WLR 316, held that scantily of life was not infringed by ceasing to give invasive treatment which conferred no benefit on the patient and there was no duty on the part of the doctors to continue such a treatment when the patient has no further interest in being kept alive.
In the American case of Jack Kevorkean (Dr. Death), the juries repeatedly declined to convict the doctor of homicide as his actions seemed to have satisfied the morality of a significant proportion of an American society, the criminality of his techniques, notwithstanding.

Euthanasia and pain control
Proponents of euthanasia argue that in cases of terminally ill patients, euthanasia is a method to relieve them and their loved ones, of the agony of extreme pain bound to occur as and when end comes nearer.
Dr. V J Anand[iv] comments on the suffering of cancer patients with malignant ulcers on the body which fungate and emit foul smell because of bacterial infection. Not only is it agonising for the relatives to watch the suffering of he patient, but also inhumanly intolerable for such a patient to live within the family because of the foul smell. Such patients are often shifted to hospitals or hospices (health facilities providing palliative care to the terminally ill patients. “It is … natural for the patients suffering from terminal cancer and their relatives to think of relief from this situation by way of hastening the terminal events”.
But opponents of euthanasia find the idea of mercy killing to relieve pain revolting. They point out the technological advances in the medical science such as “Patient Controlled Anaesthesia (PCA) [a pump which can deliver a continuous infusion of a drug such as morphine as well as allow patient activated doses for breakthrough pain] should be resorted to relieve pain and not the lethal injection.
A whole new field of health care in the form of palliative care evolved to address to the needs of pain control in terminally ill patients wherein no substantial effort is made to cure the patient, but the focus is on relieving their pain. Hospices are a product of this approach to the health care.

Euthanasia and organ donation
P Venkatesh, a bubbly child of tender age, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a rare disorder which would make his end painful and inevitable. In next few months his muscles would refuse to function one by one before his vital organs ultimately fail bringing his life to an end. The child was distraught and so were his parents and those who loved him. The child and his parents wanted to make an informed decision. They wanted euthanasia for Venkatesh, not only would it relief Venkatesh of his pain, it would facilitate organ transplant to several needy patients. Loss of Venkatesh’s life could thus, be somewhat compensated by giving this rare gift of life to such others for whom death was possible to avoid if timely intervention was made. But the Honourable Andhra Pradesh High Court found itself on an infirm ground while dealing with legal aspect of euthanasia in a country where the debate is still in its nascent stage. P Venkatesh was made to die a slow and agonising death and in the process his vital organs lost their utility for transplantation.

Euthanasia for the political man
Almost all modern ideological streams give individual a pride of place in its settings. The rights of an individual are of paramount importance. Individual is at the Centre. He is the poster boy. Still, the individual is more of a political person than a private person and the control over his life is not of his alone. His life belongs to the polity, which offers him the environment of personal liberty and free will. He ought not to exercise this to the detriment of his very existence. Therefore euthanasia hits at the very bottom of the reasoning of free will: the basis of individuals political existence.

Suicide or taking one’s life for wants of a better life for a better life has long been a social taboo. Civil society has looked down upon suicide. Though, a few socio-religious practice of Hindus and Jains have held suicide in high estimation., even these practices are not for those seeking refuse in death from the drudgery of life.
An attempt to commit suicide is a panel offence in India under section 309 of the Indian Panel Code. Certain judicial pronouncements have debated the constitutionality of the section 309 of the IPC. In P Rathinam v. Union of India (AIR 1994 SC 1844) a two judge bench of the Honourable Supreme Court of India took cognisance to relationship/contradiction between section 309 of the IPC and article 21 of the Constitution of India. The court ruled that the right to life embodied in article 21 also embodies in it a “right not to live”. A person cannot, the court ruled, be forced to enjoy right to life to his detriment, disadvantage or disliking. Article 21 of the constitution, the court further said, brings in its trial the right not to live a forced life. The bench held the section 309 of the IPC violative of article 21.
This question was again debated in Gian Kaur v. State of Punjab (AIR 1996 SC 946). The full bench reviewed the Rathinam judgement and held that the protection of life and personal liberty, guaranteed in article 21, nowhere includes extinction of life by a stretch of imagination. The court held, “… Right to life is a natural right embodied in article 21, but suicide is an unnatural termination or extinction of life, and therefore, incompatible and inconsistent with the concept of right to life…” The court validated section 309.
In this case, the Honourable Supreme Court distinguished between euthanasia and attempt to commit suicide in a passing reference. The court defined euthanasia as termination of life of a person who is terminally ill or in a persistent state. Death, in such a case, due to termination of natural life is certain and imminent. The process of natural death has commenced and the in euthanasia, the period if suffering the process of natural death is reduced. The process of natural death, which has already begun, is only accelerated in euthanasia.
The Honourable Supreme Court further maintained that euthanasia may fall within the concept of right to live with human dignity upto the end of natural life. This may include the right of a dying man to die with dignity when the life is ebbing out. But this cannot be equated with the right to die an unnatural death curtailing the natural span of life. But these assertions of the Honourable Supreme Court are more in the manner of obiter dicta and do not carry the force of law.

Right to die: a right to die for!
The question whether the Right to Life includes Right to Life is a tricky one in a country like India where the state has failed in its duty to ensure a dignified life to each of its individuals. In countries like USA and UK, suicide has already been decriminalised. In India too, the Forty Second Report of the Law Commission of India in early seventies had recommended deletion of section 309 of the IPC. This provision has been found to be outdated, irrational and cruel. It was in this light that the Honourable Supreme Court has decriminalised section 309 of the IPC in Rathinam case. “the most desirable fall out of such a finding would be that the frustrated and psychologically traumatised suicide-seekers would not only be spared of most unkind social stigma, but would also be in a better position to freely and fearlessly seek medical and psychiatric treatment.[v]

Theology at the crossroad
Hindu and Jain religions approve the practice of taking one’s own life for the “higher goal” of attaining salvation for the soul. But the practice of committing suicide for escaping life is not acceptable. Dharma Shastra condemns the killing of a person by his own art. Parasara states that if a person hangs and dies, he/she fell in the hell for sixty thousand years. Manu says no water is to be offered for the benefit of those who kill themselves.
Islam does not approve of suicide. The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) is reported to have said “La rahabaniah fi al-islam” i.e. Islam does not recognise renunciation of the world to be legitimate. The shari’ah creates a kind of trusteeship of life where the human being is to take care of his body and keep it safe.[vi]
Christianity also condemns taking one’s own life. Although it is not mentioned anywhere either in the New Testament or Old Testament, the church issued religious decree in the Council or Arles against the person committing suicide, and they were denied burial in the church graveyard, and their goods and properties were confiscated by civil authorities in the middle ages.[vii]
As regards euthanasia the theological position on it is of recent origin. There has been a tendency to club euthanasia with suicide and therefore, it has been generally condemned by religious authorities.
The Roman Catholic Church is one of the most vocal critics of thr concept of euthanasia. The reaction of Pope John Paul II on Terri Schindler Schiavo is an unambiguous pointer to it.
When George W Bush, the US president urged the US society to show a “prejudice for life when faced with an ethical question like that raised by euthanasia, critics were quick to point out the biblical tone of his appeal, so in line with his “neo con” ideology.

Concluding Lines
The ethical, moral, sociological and legal aspects of the debate surrounding euthanasia have to be discussed together if one plans to conclude on its desirability. But certain fundamental premises must be borne in the mind. Suicide and euthanasia are not to be confused with each others. The two are different issues and raise different questions, though the questions may be overlapping in few instances. Any move to decriminalise suicide must also accompany steps to prevent legitimising it. Suicide is a scar on any civilised society and its chances must be removed by positive actions on the part of the State and the civil society.
Euthanasia is an issue which raises more ethical questions than legal. Theology is yet to come to terms with it. It is still to get popular recognition. But its importance cannot be entirely brushed aside in a world where techenology has still not been able to remove the causes of pain and suffering of mankink. Theology stands on the crossroads and so does the civil society. For the time being, one may ask the poet to re-write his lines:
Death, Be Not Proud.
* The author is the final year student of LLB programme at the Law Centre-I, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, Delhi. He can be contacted at This essay was written by the author for the Manupatra-Westlaw-Surana & Surana All India Essay Competition 2005.
[i] Cantoni, Lorenzo: Euthanasia
[iii] Desai, Justice Ashok A.; Predicament of Euthanasia
[iv] Anand, Dr V J; Health care needs of the terminally ill cancer patients
[v] Pande, B B; Right to Life or Death: for Bharat both cannot be “right” (1994) 4 SCC (J).
[vi] Saqlain, Masoodi G. & Dhar, Lalita; Euthanasia at Western and Islamic Legal Systems: Trends and Developments, XV-XVI ICLR [1995-96]
[vii] Mustafa, Faizal; Should section 309 IPC continue on the statute book, 1993.

© Divya Jyoti Jaipuriar, 2005