The Bombay high court on Thursday granted four weeks' time to the Union government to respond to a petition seeking amendments in law to enhance the punishment for offenders in drunk driving cases and more compensation to the accident victims.
A division bench of justice Abhay Oka ad justice AS Chandurkar were hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by journalist Nikhil Wagle, seeking compensation from Salman Khan for the victims of the 2002 hit-and-run-case involving the actor.
The bench asked Anil Singh, additional solicitor general, to seek instructions from the Centre and file a response to the PIL after a month.
The bench had earlier asked the Centre to consider amending section 279 of Indian Penal Code (rash and negligent driving) and increase the existing punishment of two years' jail term for drunk driving.
The court also suggested that IPC sections 304 A (culpable homicide not amounting to murder which attracts upto 10 years punishment) and 279 should be amended to include a specific offence of drunk driving.
The Central government's lawyer said it was considering amendment of section 304 A and it had sought views of the state government on section 279.
An affidavit filed by Charushila Tambekar, joint secretary, home department of Maharashtra government, said records of this PIL had been destroyed in a fire that broke out in Mantralaya on June 21, 2012 and hence there was a delay in filing a reply.
The affidavit further said that the state government had proposed amendments in law and had sent the bill for President's assent to the Centre but the same was not supported by the Union ministry for road transport and highways.
The state government stated that police had registered 2,95,967 drunk driving cases from 2006 to 2014, while collecting Rs 45.55 crore as fine from the offenders. Besides, 46,998 driving licences had been suspended from 2007 to 2014.
On the last occasion, Jaiprakash Agarwal, joint secretary (home) at the Centre, stated in his affidavit that the law commission had recommended modification of sections 304 A and 279 to include drunk driving as a serious offence. The process had already begun and it will come up before the Cabinet.
The Centre had sought the views of the state governments and union territories on amending section 279. However, Maharashtra had not responded so far, the affidavit said.
The court then asked the state government to respond to the Centre's proposal within two months.
Salman's vehicle, allegedly driven by him, rammed into a bakery at suburban Bandra on September 28, 2002, killing one person and injuring four. A sessions court is currently trying the actor in the case.
At an earlier hearing on this PIL in October 2002, the then attorney general Goolam Vahanvati had assured the court that he will personally ensure that constructive measures were taken by the government to prevent drunk driving.
The HC had then asked the government to file an affidavit stating so, but no affidavit has been filed so far.
Justice Oka had on the last occasion asked the government why it had not filed the affidavit.
In 2002, the HC had directed the actor to pay interim compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased, Rs 3 lakh to those injured seriously and Rs 1.5 lakh to others.
The actor deposited the money with the court.