If you have lost a loved one to a drink-driving accident or even if they have become bedridden due to one, the current Indian law will raise its hands and ask you not to count on the legislature for justice.
“As per the current law, if an accused kills a person while he was driving under the influence of alcohol, he will be charged under Indian penal code section 304A for causing death due to negligence. Under this section, the accused will be released on bail immediately after his arrest and even if he is convicted in the court, his maximum punishment is three years of imprisonment,” informs Satish Borulkar, a lawyer.
After the Oshiwara drink-driving accident last week in which two persons were grievously injured, with one of them, Charu Khandal, 28, still in critical condition, several questions have been raised about the stringency of the current legal system. The accused, Manoj Netrapal, 39, who was driving under the influence of alcohol, was let off immediately after his arrest on a surety of Rs10,000 since the sections applied against him — IPC section 337 for causing hurt, 338 for causing grievous hurt, 279 for rash driving, and 185 of Motor Vehicles Act for drunken driving) are all bailable offences, the police said.
Lawyers point out several such incidents in which the accused have been let off with minimal punishments. This, they say, calls for amendments in the current legal system. “In cases like the Oshiwara accident in which the person has practically been reduced to a vegetable, the police should have applied IPC section 308, for attempt to commit culpable homicide not amounting to murder. This section is non-bailable and carries punishment three years of imprisonment,” said Niteen Pradhan, a criminal lawyer.
Besides, said Pradhan, in cases where a person has been killed due to the irresponsible act of someone who deemed it appropriate to take the risk of driving in an inebriated condition, section 304 of the IPC, for culpable homicide not amounting to murder, should be applied.
“Moreover, where the legislature fails, the judiciary should come in and fill the vacuum by its independent judicial interpretation. Today, we are a state without a system, we have law without its enforcement and the only victim is the common man,” he said.
Lawyers opine that there is a need for a law specific to drink driving since the current legal system is inadequate to deal with such cases. YP Singh, former IPS officer and now a lawyer, argues that even if sections like culpable homicide are added against an accused at the FIR stage, it would only ensure that the person does not get bail easily. However, when the case comes up for trial, these sections will not hold any significance and will be dismissed in the court of law.
Instead, says Singh, it is the duty of the government to come up with a legislation that deals specifically with drink driving. “Laws for such cases should be specific and unambiguous. They have to be crystal clear. And I feel it is only lethargy on the government’s part that is preventing this move. So many people have lost their lives because of drink driving accidents for no fault of their own and yet the government is not willing to simply legislate a few lines in the IPC or the Motor Vehicles Act,” Singh said.