How far can the police go to address offenders in drunken driving cases? Are existing penalties and legal consequences adequate for tackling the problem? Do cops need to come up with novel deterrents? Should employers of offenders be regarded as stakeholders in the matter?
These are pressing questions which are all the more relevant following the accident case in Kerala resulting in the death of a journalist, who was hit by a car alleged to have been driven by an IAS officer under the influence of alcohol.
In response to the Cyberabad Traffic Policeâ€™s recently introduced policy of sending letters to employers of convicts in drunken driving cases, a PIL was filed in the Telangana High Court earlier in June, challenging the move. Umesh Chandra, the lawyer representing the petitioner in the case, says that the police are not legally empowered to apprise employers of their employeesâ€™ activities outside of the workplace. â€śPolice have also been detaining vehicles indefinitely in such cases, which is also against the law. But this practice of notifying employers is being done exclusively by the Cyberabad commissionerate. Theyâ€™re mentioning the employeeâ€™s ID, details of the drunken driving incident, and the punishment received in the notice.â€ť
Umesh firmly states that he does not endorse drunken driving. â€śIt is an extremely unsafe practice and endangers many lives. But my contention is that such communication seriously endangers the offendersâ€™ career prospects. If the offender has already undergone legal consequences, why are they creating a double whammy by informing their office?â€ť he asks.
The Telangana HC had earlier issued notices to the Telangana Principal Secretary of the Home Department, and the Telangana DGP, who are respondents in the PIL. The case will come up for hearing in the last week of August.
Have conventional deterrents been effective?
Vinod Kumar, the founder of Indian Federation of Road Safety, says that this is just the kind of unconventional move needed to enhance road safety. â€śJust checking and imposing fines is not enough. Impounding the vehicle doesnâ€™t work, because it is eventually released. The licence is also returned. I believe sometimes an order for community service is given, but people easily get away without completing it. Only sending them behind bars makes some difference, but even that usually goes only up to five days,â€ť says Vinod.
He adds that owing to the sheer number of offenders caught over weekends, most cases are fast-tracked in court. â€śEvery Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the police stations are filled with people taken in for drunken driving. The police falls short of space to keep the two-wheelers and four-wheelers, so often, itâ€™s not even possible to confiscate the vehicles,â€ť he says. Without serious consequences, Vinod adds that offenders fail to take the police seriously, and are likely to repeat the offence.
According to Cyberabad Traffic DCP SM Vijay Kumar, the practice was started in December 2018, with the police first informing offices in cases involving government servants. â€śAs per the Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, government servants cannot be seen in drunken condition in a public place. They may get suspended for it. So we thought of writing to the government department concerned to take action against employees who have indulged in drunken driving,â€ť Vijay Kumar said.
Following this, the Cyberabad Traffic Police also held discussions with multiple IT companies in several forums before extending the measures to employees of private companies. â€śPrivate companies, including IT, manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries, are big contributors of traffic, and also major stakeholders in creating road safety,â€ť Vijay Kumar says.
Damage to career prospects and livelihood
About the possible consequences on offendersâ€™ careers, including losing their job altogether, Vijay Kumar says this is not the intention of the police. â€śWe only want to create awareness on the legal consequences. What we send are not legal notices. We just send letters informing the management that they could possibly use this example to conduct awareness programs among other employees,â€ť he says. â€śItâ€™s important for their own employeesâ€™ safety as well.â€ť
Umesh Chandra says that there is a possibility of damage to the career prospects of offenders. "The petitioner has approached me after his employers were informed, as he was scared of the consequences," he says.
Vinod says that dismissing offenders from their jobs is an extreme move. â€śMaybe first-time offenders could be let go with a warning. The next time, some incentives can be revoked. There needs to be a uniform policy in place,â€ť he says.
DCP Vijay Kumar says that the consequences will depend on internal office policies, but if employers approach them for advice, the police will make their expectations clear. â€śWe only suggest awareness actions, and not to punish the offenders,â€ť he says. But he also adds that in the event that employers do resort to extreme measures, the police would be unable to intervene.
Is this an effective policy?
DCP Vijay Kumar says that since December 2018, the Cyberabad Traffic Police have sent nearly 500-600 letters to offendersâ€™ offices, both government and private.
â€śMany companies have replied, including the Telangana Transport and Power Departments, appreciating our initiative and informing us about awareness programs undertaken within the offices,â€ť he adds.
As itâ€™s been less than a year since implementation, he says that itâ€™s difficult to furnish data illustrating the effectiveness of the move.
Vinod says that the policy is likely to have an impact. â€śVery often, offenders in drunken driving cases are either employees of MNCs or IT companies, or government employees. This move can create fear about losing out on opportunities, like travelling abroad for work, getting promotions etc. They know that if they continue with this behaviour, their career will be at stake. That can be a very strong disincentive.â€ť
Are cops operating within the law?
DCP Vijay Kumar says that thereâ€™s no law prohibiting the police from informing someone of legal action taken against a person associated with them. â€śThe police, in good faith, can inform any persons concerned who are in some way associated with the offender, so that they can take responsibility, create awareness and help them be better,â€ť the officer says. â€śUnder CrPC Section 149, the police have a responsibility to prevent cognizable offences,â€ť he points out.
Commenting on the PIL in the Telangana HC, he says, â€śWe are filing a counter-affidavit to narrate our version. Based on the directions of the Supreme Court Committee on road safety, the police have to take all measures to control road accidents due to drunken driving and other dangerous activities. Based on the spirit of that direction, we are coming up with such new measures by creating a sense of responsibility among all stakeholders.â€ť