A 17 year old student was crushed by a speeding truck on September 14th, 2010. The incident occurred near “Lucknow”, Uttar Pradesh (India). The name of the student is reported as “Sushil Kumar” and was a student of “Satya Narain Inter College”. After the accident, a violent mob attacked a dozen of vehicles outside the police station and injured about 10 policemen. The protestors wanted the arrest of truck driver who managed to escape after the accident.
The World Health Organization (WHO) in its first Global Status Report on Road Safety revealed that in India about 130,000 road accident deaths occurs every year. In India the death toll rose to 14 per hour in 2009 and is still supposed to be increasing.
The most amazing fact about such accidents is that the accused often gets acquitted even after killing dozens of people. What is the reason behind this? The answer lies in the loose legal frame work which covers such accidents.
In India section 304A IPC provides punishment for death by negligence. According to Section 304A IPC:
- Causing death by negligence
“Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.”
According to the Supreme Court of India, this section is applicable when the death is caused due to rash and negligent act of the accused and is an essential ingredient to attract the said section. In short this section comes into play when neither the intention nor the knowledge to cause death is present. In order to invoke section 304A, the death must be caused by a rash and negligent act and the death must be the direct result of the rash and negligent act. Further in case of road accidents, only grave negligence will render a person liable under section 304A.
Again section 279 IPC provides punishment for rash and negligent driving. According to section 279IPC:
- Rash driving or riding on a public way
“Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both”.
The Motor Vehicle Act 1988 and the Rules of Road Regulations 1989 further provides a number of comprehensive provisions which regulate various aspects of motor vehicles and also provides a list of offences and penalties relating to motor vehicles. Rough /rash/negligent driving is punishable with fine upto Rs 1000/- and/or imprisonment upto six months under section 184 of MV Act 1988. Exceeding the prescribed speed limit is also punishable with fine upto Rs 1000/- under sections 112-183 of the MV Act 1988.
However the most controversial legal provision in this regard is section 304A of IPC. Section 304 A was inserted in IPC by the amendment Act of 1870. Some intellects are of the opinion that section 304A is in fact a “license to kill”. If someone kills a person in a road accident and it cannot be proved that the accused was driving rashly and negligently, then the accused cannot be punished under this section and the only issue which remains is the compensation payable to the victim’s family.
Moreover the offence under section 304 A is a bailable offence and the accused in most of the cases thereby gets immediate release on bail even after committing such heinous crime. The minor offenders below 18 years of age are tried under Juvenile Justice Act which is reformative in nature. The punishment prescribed by section 304A is also very negligible.
According to an eminent advocate Mr. P.P.Hegde, section 304 was amended in 1870 by the Britishers to support the British offenders and facilitate their escape in the name of law even after committing such serious crimes. But unfortunately we are still sticking to this outdated law.
However majority of the advocates and intellects are now of the opinion that section 304A should be amended and made victim friendly. In case of minor offenders the age for conviction should be reduced and the parents or RC owners should be made vicariously liable for the act of the minor. The punishments should be enhanced as the section presently prescribes a negligible punishment.
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