Chandigarh: Rash drivers killed 32 pedestrians in 2017, kin demand non-bailable clause

Unsafe in the city: Chandigarh police intensify drive against speeding, challan 917 in the first month of this year.

punjab Updated: Feb 08, 2018 10:15 IST
Shailee Dogra
Shailee Dogra
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Chandigarh,Rash drivers,32 killed
Last year, speeding vehicles claimed the lives of 32 pedestrians.(HT File )

Fatima, 65, was hit by a speeding car while crossing the road dividing Sectors 54 and 55 on the morning of January 17. She was on her way back home after dropping her grandchildren to school when she was mowed down. The driver was arrested only to be bailed out within an hour.

Last year, speeding vehicles claimed the lives of 32 pedestrians. While 32 families lost a precious member forever, none of the speedsters who caused this to happen have received any punishment (see box).

The victims
  • April 3, 2017: Sumit Kumar (35) from Kaithal was killed after being hit by Haryana Roadways bus in the industrial area. Status: The bus driver was arrested and released on bail. Police yet to file challan
  • April 10: Innova driver Raj Singh of Badmajra village in Mohali was booked after he mowed down two Burail residents. Status: The driver was arrested and released on bail. Police yet to file challan
  • June 12: Madan Mehto, 37, a resident of ACC cement godown, Daria, was hit by a Maruti Suzuki Ritz being driven by Sumandeep of Sector 37. Mehto was going to Mauli Jagran after purchasing vegetables. Status: The driver was arrested and released on bail. Police yet to file challan
  • June 22: Lalita, 51, a resident of Sector 21, Chandigarh, was killed after being hit by a Haryana Roadways bus near Aroma in Sector 22, Chandigarh. Status: The bus driver Sushil Kumar was arrested and released on bail. Police yet to file challan
  • December 24: A 27-year-old Sonia Rani, died after she was hit by a speeding car near the Centra Mall light point in Industrial Area, Phase-I, Chandigarh while she was crossing the road. The driver was test-driving a customer’s car that had come for service. The car driver Jagdeep Singh, 23, who is an employee of the automobile company where the car came for service was booked. Status: He was arrested and later released on bail. Challan yet to be filed.

Fatima’s son Ghulam Mohammad fumes, “The driver of the vehicle that killed my mother got bail almost immediately. It is unfair as his rash driving killed a person, but this is the law.”

In most cases, the culprits are booked under Section 304 A (causing death by negligence) and 279 (rash driving or riding on a public way) of the IPC, both of which are bailable offences. Families of the deceased demand that death by negligent driving should be made a non-bailable offence.

Needed stricter punishment

In August, 2016, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and C Nagappan had termed as “absolutely inadequate” the maximum punishment for causing death by rash or negligent act. Section 304A of the IPC prescribes two-year jail term along with fine or both.

Neeti Gupta, whose father Subodh Kumar Gupta was run over by an SUV in August last year, calls for amending the law so that the culprits can be booked for culpable homicide. “The law needs to be amended. Speeding cars are moving weapons on the road, a person who kills a pedestrian should be booked for culpable homicide.”

On August 4, a speeding SUV hit Subodh Kumar Gupta, owner of Raja Ram Corn Products Private Limited, outside Hotel Mountview in Sector 10 while he was crossing the road. The SUV was allegedly being driven by Harjasneet Singh Chahal, a 27-year-old from Bathinda who runs an entertainment company called Purple Movie. He was arrested on August 6, but soon got bail. It was only after Gupta’s three daughters, Neeti, Reena, and Rashi, met senior police officers with CCTV footage that the police invoked Section 304 (II), a non-bailable offence, against Chahal. He is yet to be arrested even though a lookout notice has been issued and the police have also announced a cash reward.

Low convictions

At 12% to 14%, the rate of conviction in such cases is often quite low, and discourages many from taking the legal recourse. A major reason is that it is difficult to prove the charges against the accused in court.

Advocate Vikas Sagar, who is practicing in the district courts, Chandigarh, attributes the low rate of conviction to the inability of the aggrieved party to prove the allegations. “Often, information about the accident is sketchy. In several cases, the accused reach out to the complainants and reach an out-of-court settlement. Many cases also fall flat because eyewitnesses turn hostile.”

Lawyers feel the only way out is to charge the speedsters who kill with Section 304 (II), a non-bailable offence. Advocate Gagan Aggarwal says this section assumes that the accused is aware of the repercussions of his actions. “A person driving a vehicle at a high speed understands that he is putting his life and that of others on the road at risk.”

Sanjeev Nanda, then a Wharton Business School student, who had run over six people in his BMW in 1999, was convicted under Section 304 (II) in 2009.

Crackdown on speeding

The death of pedestrians has prompted the Chandigarh Police to launch a crackdown on speedsters. The speed limit for light motor vehicles (LMVs) in Chandigarh is 60 kmph (kilometres per hour), while that for two-wheelers is 45 kmph.

The police have already challaned 917 persons for speeding this year. This is almost one-fourth of the total 4,503 persons challaned for speeding in 2017. The traffic police have also started recommending suspension of the driving licences of habitual offenders for at least three months.

The Supreme Court committee on road safety had called for stern action, including suspension of licence, to deal with speeding, drink driving and other traffic violations.

Harpreet Singh, founder president of the NGO Avoid Accident, rued that drivers are not sensitised towards the rights of pedestrians. “Unfortunately we think that roads are meant only for vehicles, not pedestrians.” He also called for planning the road infrastructure while keeping in mind the requirement of road users and pedestrian movement.

Legally speaking

Section 304 (II) of the IPC says “whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with an imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 10 years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.”

The fundamental difference between Section 304(I) and Section 304(II) of the IPC is whether there is ‘mens rea’ (guilty mind) involved or not. If the offence of ‘culpable homicide’ involves ‘mens rea’, then the punishment is more severe as described in Section 304(I) of the IPC, and life imprisonment has been prescribed. In the absence of ‘mens rea’, the punishment is less severe as compared to Section 304(I) of the IPC.

First Published: Feb 08, 2018 10:15 IST