After 21-year-old Alistair Pereira was given six months simple imprisonment in the Carter road accident case, legal experts feel a maximum of two years imprisonment for section 304-A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) is not stringent enough.
Last week, a Sewri sessions court found Pereira guilty under section 304-A for which he was given a six-month term. Pereira was also fined Rs 5 lakh. However, he was absolved of the harsher charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under section 304-II of the IPC. This section attracts a maximum punishment of 10 years. Pereira — who ran over seven people and injured eight others on the night of November 12 last year apparently in a drunken state — plans to appeal the sentence in the Bombay High Court (HC).
But, in a city like Mumbai where hit-and-run cases are on the rise, Pereira’s mild sentence considering the severity of the case and the number of lives lost seems to indicate that justice has not been done or is not effective enough to prevent such cases in the future.
Most lawyers feel that section 304-A — under which Pereira was held guilty — should hold a maximum punishment of up to seven or even 10 years in prison. “The punishment prescribed under section 304-A (IPC) should be increased from the maximum of two years to seven years,” criminal lawyer Majeed Memon told the Hindustan Times.
“Section 304-A (IPC) should also be made a non-bailable offence, and especially if the offender has been driving in a drunken state,” said Memon. “Making it a non-bailable offence will also discourage people from driving under the influence of alcohol,” he added. Incidentally, Pereira was out on bail the very next day of his arrest.
Lawyer Satish Maneshinde advocated increased punishment under section 304-A from two years to at least 10 years. “Russian laws prescribe the death penalty for loss of lives in hit-and-run cases. In India, the laws are less severe,” Maneshinde said.
Another criminal lawyer Umesh Deshpande feels if an offender is found driving under the influence of alcohol, then section 304-A should be read with 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). “But only the judge should have the discretion to invoke the latter stringent charge,” Deshpande said.
However, actor Salman Khan’s lawyer in the hit-and-run case, Dipesh Mehta, said 304-II should not be invoked in accident cases. Citing the HC judgment in Khan’s case, Mehta said the court had quashed the charge of 304-II, saying the actor did not possess “intention to kill” and hence the section did not satisfy the conditions required to demonstrate that the offence under section 304-II was committed.
Memon too feels 304-II should not be invoked in a hit-and-run case unless there are reasons to believe that an offender had the intention to kill victims.
Some other hit-and-run cases
December 1993: Actor Puru Raj Kumar, son of actor Raj Kumar, rammed his car into a Bandra hutment, killing two people and injuring two others. He was convicted but let off on payment of a fine of Rs 30,000 each to the families of the deceased.
July 1999: Actor Aditya Panscholi hit two policemen on night patrol in Santacruz. The policemen were injured but Panscholi walked free after paying a fine of Rs 950.
September 2002: Actor Salman Khan ran over people sleeping on Bandra’s Hill road before slamming into a bakery, killing one and injuring four others. He was charged under section 304-A (IPC) and under the provisions of Motor Vehicles Act. The trial is pending.
January 2005: Manish Khatau, son of industrialist Mahendra Khatau, slammed his car in to a police barrier, seriously injuring a constable. He was charged with attempt to murder and preventing a public servant from performing duty. However, he was not charged with rash and negligent driving and was eventually acquitted.
April 2006: Actor John Abrahim was booked for negligent driving after he injured two pedestrians in Khar while riding his motorbike. He rushed the injured to a hospital and had to pay a fine of Rs 950.