Author : Prity Kumari
Citations- (2012)2 SCC 648
Bench- SB Singh, Harjit Singh Bedi
Introduction- It was seen that in earlier cases of drunken driving resulting in an accident were being determined in accordance with sections 337 and 338 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Under these sections, there are provisions with warrant maximum punishments of imprisonment for 6 months and 2 years respectively. However, in Alister Anthony Pareira v. State of Maharashtra, Supreme Court held that in a case where an allegation is raised regarding an accident being caused as a consequence of drunkenness, the investigating agency is bound to register the case under section 304, IPC. The culpable homicide not amounting to murder being given in part II of section 304, and imposes punishment of 10 years rigorous imprisonment. The drunken driving has now been made punishable under section 304 part II as well as under sections 337 and 338, which deal with injury caused by negligence. The World Health Organisation in its Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2012 has noted that speeding and drunken driving are two major contributing factors in road accidents. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), the number of deaths caused by road accidents in India every year exceeds 1,35,000. The NCRB Report has also observed the same.
Facts – On November 12, between 3:45- 4:00 A:M, a car ran into a pavement and killed seven persons and eight persons gets injured at the Carter Road.The appellant, Alister Anthony Pareira was driving the car bearing registration number MH-01-R-58. He rammed the car over pavement, thereby causing the death of seven persons and injuring eight others. A FIR was registered under sections 304, 279, 336, 337, 338 and 427 of the IPC, section 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 IPC and section 66(1)(b) of the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949. After completion of the investigation, the charge sheet was filed under sections 304 part II and section 338 of the IPC. For the purpose of the same, eighteen witnesses were examined. The appellant admitted the fact of driving the car, but contended that the accident occurred due to engine failure and other mechanical defects. The trial court convicted the appellant under sections 304A and 337 of the IPC. The court sentenced simple imprisonment of six months with a fine of Rs. 5 lakhs for the offence under section 304A IPC, and simple imprisonment of 15 days for the offence under section 337 IPC. The state of Maharashtra preferred a criminal appeal challenging the acquittal under the section 304 part II, and section 338. The state of Maharashtra preferred another criminal appeal, seeking an enhancement of the sentence awarded by the trial court for the offences under sections 304A and 337. The appellant also preferred a criminal appeal to set aside the judgement and order dated April 13, 2007 passed by the trial court. All the appeals were heard together by Bombay High Court and were disposed of on the dated September 6, 2007. The High Court set aside the acquittal. The High Court sentenced the appellant to undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years for the offence punishable under section 304 part II, and imposed a fine of Rs. 5 lakhs. For the offence under section 338, simple imprisonment of one year and for the offence under section 337, a simple imprisonment for six months was imposed. The appellant preferred an appeal to the Supreme Court, challenging the decision of the Bombay High Court.
Issues and facts of law- four issues raised for consideration in this case-
(i) Whether accusation on the two charges, namely, the offence punishable under Sections 304 Part II IPC and Section 338 IPC lie in the same transaction as a single case of Rash or Negligent Act?
Under section 304 part II, the knowledge of the fact that his acts can cause death is important. In many cases, the courts had attributed reasonable knowledge as a precondition to convict an accused. On the other hand, sections 337 and 338 of the IPC make a negligent act punishable irrespective of the knowledge or intention. These offences are made punishable because of the inherent danger of the acts in question. With regard to the accusation under sections 304 part II and section 338, the court held that the charges could co-exist in a single case of rash or negligent act because the acts in question are in the same transaction.
(ii) Whether omission of charging the appellant of `drunken condition’ was prejudicial to the appellant?
The appellant claim of the prejudice on the ground that the prosecution has omitted the charge of the drunken is not being accepted, the Supreme Court said that section 464 (i) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 which states that an order of a court shall not be deemed invalid merely on the ground of any error, omission or irregularity in the charge, unless it results in injustice. He had full opportunity to say what he wanted to say with regard to the prosecution evidence and fair trial is sine qua non in the criminal justice system. The court held that the provisions of section 313 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) had been fairly, or at least substantially, complied with by the trial court in the same. Thus, from the above facts, it becomes clear that the prosecution’s omission did not result in any prejudice to the appellant.
(iii) Whether prosecution evidences establish beyond reasonable doubt the commission of the offences being committed by the appellant under Section 304 Part II, IPC, Section 338 IPC and Section 337 of Indian Penal Code, 1860?
The High Court, after consideration the entire prosecution evidence, came to the conclusion that (1) the accused was under the influence of liquor at the relevant time; (2) he drove the car at a very high speed; and (3) he failed to control the car and the car ran over the people sleeping on the pavement. The High Court held that the accused was also aware of the fact that at the place of occurrence people sleep as the accused himself was the resident of that area.
The Supreme Court agreed with the conclusions of the High Court and held that the evidence and materials on record proved beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant had the knowledge of all his acts and the cases of negligence can’t be eliminated on the ground that the act being involuntary. In the present case, the essential ingredients required for the punishment under the Section 304 Part II IPC and Section 338 IPC against the appellant were held to be clearly established by the prosecution.
(iv)Whether sentence awarded by the High Court for the offence punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC requires any modification?
It was argued on behalf of the appellant that having regard to the facts: (i) the appellant has already undergone sentence of two months and has paid Rs. 8,50,000/- as a fine and compensation; (ii) the appellant is further willing to pay reasonable amount as compensation/fine as may be awarded by this Court; (iii) the appellant was about 20 years of age at the time of occurrence of the offence; and (iv) the appellant lost his father during the pendency of the appeal and presently being the man of means for his family, he may be released on probation of good conduct and behaviour or the sentence awarded to him be reduced to the period already undergone.
Coming to the facts and circumstances of the case, the Court held that the prosecution had been successful in proving the guilt of the accused under Section 304 Part II IPC which shows despicable aggravated offence warranting punishment proportionate to the crime. Due to the act of the appellant, seven precious human lives were lost. The Supreme Court further observed that for an offence like this, sentence of three years awarded by the High Court is too meagre punishment and after viewing the gravity of the offence, the court refused to reduce the sentence and accepted the punishment awarded by the Bombay High Court.
Judgement- The court after being satisfied with the facts and circumstances of the case held that it does not justify benefit of probation to the appellant for good conduct or for any reduction of sentence. Thereby, the appeals were dismissed. Appellant’s bail bonds were cancelled. He was ordered to forthwith surrender for undergoing the remaining sentence as awarded by the High Court in the Judgment and Order dated September 6, 2007.