Emphasising on the gravity of rash and negligent driving causing fatalities on roads, the Supreme Court has ruled that road traffic offenders can be prosecuted under the Motor Vehicles Act as well as the Indian Penal Code.
The punishment for offenders of motor vehicle accidents under the IPC is stricter and proportionate to the offence committed, as compared to the Motor Vehicles Act, the apex court said.
A bench comprising Justices Indu Malhotra and 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, which had issued instructions to their subordinate officers to prosecute offenders under the Motor Vehicle Acts only and not the IPC.
The high court had said that the MV Act is at par with the IPC and CrPC, and under Section 5 of the IPC, special laws – such as the MV Act – are recognised as superior. The court also said that if a person cannot be convicted under the MV Act, then he is not liable to be convicted under the IPC either.
The apex court meanwhile, said that there is no conflict between the IPC and MV Act as both “operate in entirely different spheres”.
“The penal consequences provided under both statutes are also independent and distinct from each other. The ingredients of offences under both statutes, as discussed earlier, are different, and an offender can be tried and punished independently under both statutes. The principle that the special law should prevail over the general law has no application in cases of prosecution of offenders in road accidents under the IPC and MV Act,” the Supreme Court said.
The bench also noted that the MV Act does not specifically deal with the offences of causing death, or grievous hurt, or hurt by motor vehicles in the case of road accidents. However, sections 279, 304 Part II, 17 304A, 337 and 338 of the IPC do deal with these offences.
Further, if MV Act is given precedence over IPC, 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, the Supreme Court bench said. Compoundable offences are those offences where the victim or the complainant can enter into a bonafide compromise with the accused and have the charges against him/her dropped.
“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 principle of proportionality between the crime and punishment has to be borne in mind,” the judgment said.
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 upto 10 years under Section 304(2) 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."
(With IANS inputs)