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Tamil Nadu trekking tragedy: ‘Forest fire’, SC quashes FIR against Belgian in death of 13 people in a trekking expedition in TN

By LAWSTREET NEWS NETWORK      05 February, 2024 12:13 PM      0 Comments

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court has set aside the Madras High Court's order and quashed an FIR and criminal proceedings initiated against a Belgian national with regard to death of 13 people in a forest fire during a trekking expedition to Kurangani hills in Tamil Nadu in March, 2018.

“We fail to understand as to how these sections could have been invoked against the appellant herein inasmuch as admittedly the persons who were part of the trekking expedition died owing to a forest fire which is an instance of vis major,” a bench of Justices B V Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih said.

The incident of fire that happened on March 11, 2018, had resulted in the loss of 13 lives and others being injured owing to the said persons who were part of the trekking expedition being trapped by the forest fire and being unable to escape from the forest fire which had engulfed the trekkers all around.

The petitioner contended that there was no negligence on the part of his client and the death of the trekkers in the unfortunate accident was owing to a vis major inasmuch as the trekkers died in the forest fire which engulfed the area of the expedition on the fateful day.

The court allowed the appeal against the August 20, 2022 order of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, which declined to quash the FIR and proceedings against him.

The bench noted no negligence could be attributed to the appellant Peter Van Geit who only facilitated organising of the trekking expedition.

The court said the organisers as well as the appellant and even the members of the trekking expedition were totally unaware of the forest fire as such.

Accidentally, they were engulfed in the forest fire and they died by sheer accident and not owing to any negligence or any criminal intent attributable to the appellant herein, the bench said.

In its January 23 order, the bench said, “The appellant had no role whatsoever in causing the death of the trekkers who died due to a forest fire which is a natural cause. On that short ground alone, we find that the invocation of Sections 304 A and 338 IPC as against the appellant herein was wholly unwarranted."

Section 304-A of the IPC deals with causing death by negligence and Section 338 is related to causing grievous hurt by an act endangering life or personal safety of others.

In the case, the bench said the high court ought to have quashed the FIR, the charge sheet as well as proceedings in the matter.

 

[Read Order]
 



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