Emphasising on the gravity of rash and negligent driving causing fatalities on roads, the Supreme Court has ruled that road traffic offences can be prosecuted under the Motor Vehicles Act as well as the Indian Penal Code.
The punishment of offenders of motor vehicle accidents under the IPC is stricter and proportionate to the offence committed, as compared with the Motor Vehicles Act.
A bench comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and Justice Sanjiv Khana said: "This court has time and again emphasised on the need to strictly punish offenders responsible for causing motor vehicle accidents. With rapidly increasing motorisation, India is facing an increasing burden of road traffic injuries and fatalities.
The apex court has set aside the Gauhati High Court order to the states of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, issuing instructions to their subordinate officers to prosecute offenders in motor vehicle accidents only and not the IPC.
The top court observed that if the IPC gives way to the MV Act, and the provisions of CrPC succumb to the provisions of the MV Act, as held by the High Court, then cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, causing death, or grievous hurt or simple hurt by rash and negligent driving would become compoundable, which is less serious in nature and allows compromise between the victim and offender, with or without the permission of courts. Under compoundable offences, upon a compromise, the offender is acquitted without any trial.
"Such an interpretation would have the consequence of letting an offender get away with a fine by pleading guilty, without having to face any prosecution for the offence committed. The financial loss, emotional and social trauma caused to a family on losing the breadwinner or incapacitation of the victim cannot be quantified," said the top court.
The court also observed that the principle of proportionality between crime and punishment has to be borne in mind.
Batting for appropriate punishment in accordance with the offence, the apex court said "the maximum imprisonment for a first-time offence under Chapter XIII of the MV Act, is up to only six months, whereas the maximum imprisonment for a first-time offence under the IPC in relation to road traffic offences can go up to 10 years under Section 304 Part II of the IPC. The sentence imposed by courts should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, and should have a deterring effect on wrongdoers."