Early on Monday, a car climbed on to a south Delhi pavement, crushing two small children and destroying a family forever. Police said the driver was hopelessly drunk and speeding. They booked him, but he was out on bail within hours, and is possibly driving again. Hopelessly lax laws have become the deadly allies of irresponsible drivers on our killer streets, say experts.
Darpan Malik, the man who allegedly ran over and killed two children and grievously injured three members of their family while driving drunk late on Monday night, was charged under Section 304A of the Indian Penal Code.
It is a bailable offence, and Malik was a free man within hours. He was just as lucky as many other reckless people who drink, drive and kill — because 304A IPC is the section the police use most often in these cases. The maximum punishment a conviction attracts is a mere two years.
“Everything depends on circumstances under which the accident and the death takes place. There is no rule that accidents causing death will only be charged under 304A,” Dependra Pathak, additional commissioner of police (spokesman), said.
Yet, senior officers were found wracking their brains when asked what other sections drunken drivers who kill are commonly charged under. Privately, they said there were probably only two cases in recent years in which a drunk driver was charged under the more stringent Section 304 — culpable homicide not amounting to murder. One of those two cases was the infamous BMW case.
If 304A IPC, the police’s bread-and-butter section for charging drunk drivers, is soft, the sections under the Central Motor Vehicles Act are more so. Here, the worst punishment for drink-driving is a jail term of 2 years or a Rs-3,000 fine, or both. And this is for a second offence, committed within 3 years of the first — the first time, offenders get only up to 6 months, or a fine of Rs 2000, or both.
“There needs to be extremely stringent laws to curb the menace of drunken driving,” top Supreme Court lawyer K.T.S. Tulsi said. “Even if bail is granted, the licence of the driver should be suspended during the course of the trial. A licence to drive cannot be used as a licence to kill.”
Amitabh Sen, a lawyer who has practised in the US for many years, said: “People who drink and drive and kill people should be made to pay a heavy financial price.”
Delhi Police standing counsel Mukta Gupta said: “There is a need for harsher laws. Many are hit-and-run cases. If the accused runs away it is difficult to prove the driver was drunk at the time of the accident.”
A similar point was made by several policemen HT spoke with. “We can only assume that most accidents taking place at night are due to drunken driving. Only if there is a specific allegation that the driver was drunk is a test conducted. So in many cases there is no record of the driver being drunk,” said a senior officer who declined to be named.
Hindustan Times tried to contact Darpan Malik at his Janakpuri home on Tuesday. But the family refused to speak.