“A drunken driver on the road is like a live human bomb which can explode and kill innocent people along with himself.” With these words, Justice Kailash Gambhir had rejected the bail application of Sanjeev Nanda in October last year.
Eight months later, activists fighting against drunken driving would not have expected the same judge to reduce his sentence from five to two years.
“The reduction of sentence sends a wrong message. It is mostly the rich and the powerful who commit such accidents,” said Prince Singhal, president of an NGO, Community Against Drunken Driving.
"The judge should have in fact enhanced the punishment and send across a tough message for those indulging in drunken driving," Singhal said.
Singhal said it was not a simple case of causing injury but an incident in which six persons were killed by a vehicle driven in a most rash manner and the judge had to take note of this fact.
“Such judgments weaken the crack down against drunken driving. People think they can do anything,” he said.
The reprieve to Nanda comes at a time when a recent Delhi Police survey has revealed that 95 per cent of bar patrons drive on their own after drinking. For high-end bars, the figure stands at 80 per cent, while only 20 per cent use chauffeur-driven cars.
Says Dr Hariharan of Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance, an NGO involved in policy advocacy on the effects of alcohol: “If the judge was in no mood to increase the punishment to set an example, he should have at least retained the earlier sentence”.
Hariharan reminded that even the Law Commission had recommended stiff punishment for such offences.
Delhi Police to challenge high court verdict
Even as the Delhi High Court reduced the charges on Sanjeev Nanda from culpable homicide to that of rash and negligent driving, Delhi Police said they would challenge the verdict.
Nanda was allegedly high on alcohol while driving back from a party in Gurgaon and had mowed down six persons in Lodhi Colony of south Delhi in January 1999.
“We had invoked section 304 IPC in the case as Nanda even after hitting the six people, had dragged them under the wheels of his car. It was not a simple case of accident,” said a police officer on conditions of anonymity as he was not authorised to speak to the media.
According to Delhi Police statistics, everyday 31 people are caught in the city on charges of drunk driving.
Another 640 people are held on charges of dangerous driving every day in the city.
This year, more than one lakh people have been booked for dangerous driving and more than 5,000 people were booked on charges of drunken driving, according to police records.
In September 2008, Delhi Police had invoked section 304 IPC on 19-year-old Utsav Bhasin, son of an industrialist for mowing down a TV journalist.
He was booked on the charge that the vehicle dragged the victim for several yards after knocking him down.
Supreme Court granted him a bail on February 2009.