The Kerala police have finally submitted a chargesheet against IAS officer Sriram Venkitaraman, who is accused of driving a car in an inebriated state that led to the death of journalist KM Bahseer in Thiruvananthapuram. While the accident happened on August 3, 2019, the chargesheet has been filed by the police only six months later.
Speaking to TNM, Crime Branch Superintendent A Shahnavas confirmed that the 66-page chargesheet was submitted to the court on Saturday.
"We have charged Sriram under section 304 of the IPC – culpable homicide not amounting to murder," Shahnavas added. While Sriram remains the main accused in the case, his friend Wafa Firoz who was reportedly seated next to him when the road rage took place, has been named the second accused in Basheer's death.
The chargesheet also lists 100 eye-witnesses and 75 mainours to establish that this was a case of drunken driving, in the absence of a breath analyser test to prove whether the accused was heavily inebriated.
On the night of the accident, Sriram, who according to several eye-witnesses had emerged from the car in a drunken state, refused to take the breath analyser test. He later got himself admitted to the KIMS private hospital in Thiruvananthapuram from the general hospital where he was taken post the incident. It was only nine hours later that a blood test was conducted on Sriram to check for alcohol levels in his body.
In the absence of a statutory medical record of Sriram's blood alcohol levels during the time of the accident, the investigation team had to rely on statements of witnesses, doctors, first responders and other police officers to prepare a case against the accused.
In Sriram's case, although the charges against him include Section 304 (Culpable homicide not amounting to murder), this will only stick if the prosecution proves that this was a case of drunken driving. Drunken driving or section 185 of the Motor Vehicle Act can only be proven if the person driving a vehicle or attempting to drive a vehicle with alcohol in blood exceeding 30mg/100 ml detected by a breathalyser.
If both these charges fail to hold in court, then the officer may only get a maximum jail term of 2 years, a fine or both for negligent driving (Section 304A of the IPC).
However, legal experts who had spoken to TNM also explained that there are other ways to prove drunk driving.
“There are other ways to prove that a person had consumed alcohol. Bills from the restaurant/bar indicating what the person had consumed alcohol and how much quantity of alcohol the person had consumed. This can work as evidence. It can also be checked if the accused drove the vehicle immediately following the consumption of alcohol. Eye-witness accounts at the spot where alcohol was consumed indicating that the accused was visibly drunk, inebriated or stating the quantity of the drinks can also help. However, they do not work as strong evidence as it has to be proven beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was under the influence of alcohol," according to Manu Sebastian, an expert from Live Law.