Over five years after Alistair Pereira, driving under the influence of alcohol, ran over 15 labourers sleeping on a Mumbai pavement killing seven of them, the Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a Bombay high court verdict awarding him a three-year jail sentence, even though it found it too lenient.
In April 2007, a trial court showed him leniency and had held Pereira guilty for just rash and negligent act. However, five months later, the Bombay high court reversed the verdict and convicted the Bandra resident for culpable homicide not amounting to death and enhanced his sentence to three years' imprisonment.
The Mumbai police had charged Pereira under Section 304 Part-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and Section 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
Section 304 Part-II invites a maximum sentence of 10 years, whereas Section 338 attracts maximum punishment of imprisonment for two years or a fine of Rs1,000.
On April 13, 2007, the first additional ad-hoc sessions judge of the Sewree fast-track court convicted Pereira for causing death by negligence (Section 304 A) and causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others (Section 337). It sentenced him to six months of imprisonment and imposed a fine of Rs5 lakh for negligence. For the second charge, he was handed down a simple imprisonment of 15 days.
The court had convicted him for a lesser offence primarily on the ground that knowledge about persons sleeping on the footpath could not be attributed to him.
On a suo-motu cognisance, the Bombay high court set aside the trial court order and enhanced Pereira's punishment to three years under the stricter law. The verdict attributed knowledge to Pereira and held he could not concentrate on driving as he was under the influence of liquor and failed to control the high-speed vehicle before it ran over the people sleeping on pavement.
The division bench of the then chief justice Swatanter Kumar and justice Ranjana Desai said since he was a resident of the same locality, he was aware of people sleeping on the footpath.
Agreeing with the HC's conclusions, the Supreme Court on Thursday held: "There is a presumption that a man knows the natural and likely consequences of his acts. Moreover, an act does not become involuntary act simply because its consequences were unforeseen."
Finding even the three-year punishment meagre, the bench added the twin objective of the sentencing policy was deterrence and correction. It also asked the law makers to revisit the punishment prescribed under law on accidents.