At the very outset, let me begin by stating that it is high time now and without wasting any more time, Centre must immediately swing into action and make necessary changes to ensure that those indulging in drunken driving are strictly punished and not let off on bail or freed after spending few months to 2 years in jail at the most. This I say because a very wrong message is going among drunken drivers that they can commit any crime they want, kill anyone whom they want by indulging in rash driving and after spending at the most 2 years in prison come out and again commit a crime and again be released and this process keeps continuing endlessly What utter nonsense is this?
When a person indulges in rash and negligent act which causes the death or injury of one, few or many innocents, do they not realize the gravity of the situation? Why should they be let off cheaply? Why should rash drivers be allowed to presume that they will come out easily after few months or at the most 2 years in prison even after grievously injuring or killing someone? Most recently, we saw how 15 labourers who were sleeping were crushed by a truck in Surat in Gujarat.
Why should they have the unfettered licence to be let off most lightly after killing anyone by indulging in road terrorism by driving most rashly and brazenly? Just because Section 304A of the IPC advocates leniency for them? Why are they released promptly on bail? What message are we sending to those rash and brazen drivers who have criminal bent of mind or who care a least for the lives of others? Are we not encouraging them to commit more crime and come off lightly to again commit another heinous crime? This is just not done!
I am not alone in feeling so. Many eminent jurists and senior lawyers have too felt the same way barring few exceptions. To top it all, now even the Supreme Court on March 30, 2015 noted with deep concern the serious menace posed by drunken driving and the large number of accident deaths in the country and very categorically asked the government to tighten a law used to charge errant drivers to ensure that the punishment had a deterrent effect.
Bluntly put: How long will Centre keep skipping this so sensitive issue which has the potential to either save or destroy so many lives of innocent hinging on Centre’s stand? How long will Centre keep renewing the licence to rash drivers to kill anyone by indulging in most brazen and rash driving and yet come out of jail in just few months or at the most after 2 years if the Judge does not extend any leniency? How long will Centre keep forwarding the absurd logic that rash drivers just don’t understand the serious consequences of driving rashly or killing anyone when they indulge in rash driving? All this nonsense must now stop immediately and I am happy to note that the Supreme Court too now feels much the same way.
While craving for my readers exclusive indulgence, let me point out here for their knowledge that drunk driving is usually charged under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) as a rash and negligent act causing death and carries a maximum of two years in jail or fine or both. Section 304A of the IPC explicitly states that , “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.” It is not Sanjeev Sirohi or Dheeraj Kaushik alone who strongly feel that this Section allows offenders to escape after getting a very light punishment but even the Supreme Court which is the highest court of our nation which now strongly feels that the provision allows those charged under the act to get away with lenient sentences and this observation was made by it while delivering a landmark ruling on March 30, 2015.
Truth be told, it is most concerning to note that the Supreme Court itself observed that the law just did not have any deterrent effect as a two-year jail term for such acts was inadequate. Quoting Greek playwright Sophocles, the Apex Court said: “Laws can never be enforced unless fear supports them. Drunkenness contributes to careless driving where other people become their prey. The poor feel their lives are not safe, the pedestrians think of uncertainty and civilised persons drive in constant fear… about the obnoxious attitude of the people who project themselves as ‘larger than life’. In such circumstances, we are bound to observe that the lawmakers should scrutinise, re-look and re-visit the sentencing policy in Section 304A, IPC. We say so with immense anguish.”
Of course, these strong words used by Apex Court itself should be enough for Centre and our law makers to at least now wake up and promptly amend this Section 304A which is making a mockery of our legal system and is openly allowing offenders to break law with impunity and yet escape either with no punishment or very little punishment as discretion bomb vests in the hand of Judges to award or not award punishment as per their own discretion. But yes, they cannot under any circumstance award punishment exceeding 2 years even though rash and negligent driving may cause huge damage or claim the lives of many innocent people! This is most ridiculous and absurd!
Let me point out here for my esteemed readers benefit that this landmark ruling was made by a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and PC Pant who took a very dim view of the Punjab and Haryana High Court reducing the jail term awarded to a person in a case of rash driving to 24 days already spent in prison. This is not an isolated case. Such instances are galore where offenders escape with virtually no punishment or very light punishment.
This ludicrous mockery of law must end once and for all. There must be a minimum punishment of at least five years or ten years and maximum life term. In this case, an uncle-nephew duo was killed in 2007 while returning from a marriage party when a car coming at high speed from the opposite side driven on the wrong side by Saurabh Bakshi hit their vehicle.
The prosecution was able to prove in this case that the accused, a young person was driving rashly. The top court noted with anger that, “In this case, rash and negligent driving has been established. This court has been constantly noticing the increase in number of road accidents and has also noticed how the vehicle drivers have been totally rash and negligent. It seems to us driving in a drunken state, in a rash and negligent manner or driving with youthful adventurous enthusiasm as if there are no traffic rules or no discipline of law has come to the centre stage.”
Sentencing Bakshi to six months, the Supreme Court said the high court’s decision to release the driver after he had paid Rs 85,000 to the families of the dead would shatter the public’s faith in the judicial system. Justice Misra said that, “A man with the means has, in possibility, graduated himself to harbor the idea that he can escape from the substantive sentence by payment of compensation.”
A very wrong message goes out that if the offender is rich and affluent, he/she can escape punishment by paying cash to the affected family. This mockery of law must end and they must be made to serve a minimum term of few years so that they realize the gravity of the act done by them instead of taking law for granted! Supreme Court on being pained by the lenient jail terms awarded for causing death by rash and negligent driving requested Parliament to enhance the punishment by amending the existing provisions to put fear of law among those who drive as “emperors of roads”. It said : “There is a nonchalant attitude among drivers. They feel that they are the emperors of all they survey.” This has contributed to India’s dubious road accident record in a big way. The bench said result of this leniency and non-deterrent effect of law was there for everyone to see.
Let me point out here that Indian roads are among the most dangerous in the world – 17 people are killed in accidents in an hour and in 2019 India had topped the list among nations in road accidents death. Delhi tops the list of fatal accidents among Indian cities. To stop it or at least check it, it is imperative that the Section 304A which governs rash and negligent driving is now promptly made more stringent as the Apex Court has very rightly suggested and this should be done at the earliest. This I say so that potential offenders have a fear of law and realize that they cannot escape after paying heavily to the affected family and if they indulge in rash and negligent driving and kill someone, they will have to cool their heels for at least some years in jail and not few days or few months as we are seeing even in this landmark case where Apex Court too sentenced them to just 6 months which according to me is wholly inadequate and makes a mockery of our legal system!
This must end now! The earlier this is done, the better it shall be for lakhs of innocents who every year lose their live for no fault of theirs! For this to happen, it is Centre which has to act now and bring a suitable legislation in this regard and get it passed by Parliament after adequate serious debate and discussions! I hope Centre is listening!