In a balanced, brilliant and bold decision, the Delhi High Court has just recently on March 12, 2020 in a latest, landmark and extremely laudable 15-page judgment titled Sunil Kumar Mishra vs. State in Crl. Rev. P. 494/2017 which is pertaining to death caused due to rash and negligent driving has very rightly held that lifetime ban on the convict from getting a driving license is too harsh a sentence when his entire livelihood is depended upon driving. While modifying the order of sentence in a revision petition, the Single Bench of Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of Delhi High Court has very rightly and remarkably observed that, “The punishment of cancellation of the driving license permanently and debarring him from obtaining any driving license throughout his life literally amounts to his civil death because he would not be in a position to carry out his profession for life.” Very rightly so!
To start with, this notable oral judgment authored by Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of Delhi High Court sets the ball rolling by first and foremost observing in para 1 that, “Petitioner impugns judgment dated 27.02.2017 whereby the appeal of the petitioner impugning order on conviction dated 28.10.2015 has been dismissed, however, the order on sentence dated 08.11.2015 has been modified.”
While elaborating on the charges against the petitioner and the punishment that he had been sentenced to undergo, it is then observed in para 2 that, “Petitioner was convicted by the Trial Court of the offences punishable under Sections 279/304-A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC for short) and sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of six months for the offence under Section 279 IPC and rigorous imprisonment for the period of 18 months under Section 304A IPC.”
While then elaborating on the decision taken by the Appellate Court, it is then brought out in para 3 that, “The Appellate Court, in the appeal filed by the petitioner, considering mitigating circumstances and also the family condition of the petitioner, while upholding the order on conviction, modified the order on sentence and sentenced the petitioner to pay a fine of Rs 1000/- for the offence under Section 279 IPC and in default of payment of fine to undergo simple imprisonment for a period of 8 days and sentenced the petitioner to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a period of 12 months for the offence under Section 304A IPC, instead of 18 months.”
In addition, it is then also pointed out in para 4 that, “The Appellate Court additionally directed that the driving licence of the petitioner shall stand cancelled and debarred him from obtaining any driving licence throughout his life and directed that no fresh driving licence shall be issued to him.”
By all accounts, the punishment that was imposed by the Appellate Court as narrated in para 4 is far too excessive. This has been acknowledged and appreciated even by the Delhi High Court itself in this landmark judgment even though it admitted that the Appellate Court is empowered to debar a person from holding a licence for as long a period as it deems fit. So no wonder that it had to be set aside!
Be it noted, para 29 very rightly states that, “The petitioner is a driver by profession and cancellation of the driving license of the petitioner permanently and debarring him from obtaining a driving licence for life amounts to a punishment that he cannot carry out the vocation of driving throughout his life.”
Most significantly, it is then very rightly conceded in para 30 that, “The punishment of cancellation of the driving license permanently and debarring him from obtaining any driving license throughout his life literally amounts to his civil death because he would not be in a position to carry out his profession for life.” Who can deny or dispute this? Certainly no one!
Needless to say, it is quite remarkable that Delhi High Court has been gracious enough to concede that the consequences of cancellation of his driving license for life and debarring him from obtaining any driving license throughout his life literally amounts to his civil death as he would be decapitated from carrying out his profession throughout his remaining life which certainly under no circumstances can be justified as two wrongs cannot make a right! The Appellate Court certainly did not deliberate much on this! This alone explains why it failed to appreciate what the Delhi High Court has done now so rightly!
To put it succinctly, the Delhi High Court then rightly held in para 32 that, “In the present case, as noticed above, the concurrent finding of both the courts below is that petitioner caused the death by driving the offending vehicle i.e. truck trailer, in a rash and negligent manner and hit against the deceased from the back, in such a manner that it caused the death of the deceased on the spot. Clearly, it cannot be said that the action of the Appellate Court in directing cancellation of the license driving license is unwarranted. However, in the facts of the case and particularly keeping in view the provisions of section 22 of the Act, I am of the opinion that cancellation of the license driving license of the petitioner for all classes or description of vehicles is excessive.”
Finally and no less significantly, it is then held in para 33 that, “Keeping in view the facts and circumstances of the case, interest of justice would be served, in case, the sentence awarded by the Appellate Court of cancellation of the driving license of the petitioner and debarring him from obtaining any driving license throughout his life, is modified to the extent that the driving license of the petitioner is cancelled for the class and description of medium and heavy goods and medium and heavy passenger vehicle and he is debarred from obtaining a driving licence for medium and heavy goods and medium and heavy passenger vehicle. For obtaining a driving licence of other description of vehicles he shall have to undergo a fresh test of competence to drive.”
In conclusion, it may well be said that it is a fairly balanced and well concluded judgment. Justice Sanjeev Sachdeva of Delhi High Court very rightly acknowledges the power of the Appellate Court to deprive the petitioner of his driving license for life but in the same vein also concedes that it is excessive! This alone explains that why the judgment of the Appellate Court was overturned and the petitioner was granted relief by the Delhi High Court! All the courts must follow the Delhi High Court in similar such cases and take a compassionate view as we see here in this notable judgment!