Stressing the need to strictly punish offenders responsible for causing motor vehicle accidents, the Supreme Court has reiterated that a person can be prosecuted under both the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act and the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for driving dangerously.
A Bench of Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna noted that there is no provision under the MV Act which separately deals with offences causing death, or grievous hurt, or hurt by a motor vehicle in cases of motor vehicle accidents.
“With rapidly increasing motorisation, India is facing an increasing burden of road traffic injuries and fatalities,” the bench observed adding, “The financial loss, emotional and social trauma caused to a family on losing a bread winner, or any other member of the family, or incapacitation of the victim cannot be quantified”.
The Bench’s observation came while striking down a Gauhati High Court finding that the prosecution of offenders under two statutes — the MV Act and the IPC — was unsustainable and contrary to law.
It also set aside the Gauhati High Court’s order to Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh to issue appropriate instructions to their subordinate officers to prosecute offenders in motor vehicle accidents only under the provisions of the MV Act and not the IPC.
“If the IPC gives way to the MV Act, and the provisions of CrPC succumb to the provisions of the MV Act as held by the High Court, then even cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, causing death, or grievous hurt, or simple hurt by rash and negligent driving, would become compoundable,” the Bench remarked.
“Such an interpretation would have the consequence of letting an offender get away with a fine by pleading guilty, without having to face any prosecution for the offence committed,” it added.
Explaining the peculiarity of the two laws, the top court said the MV Act is a beneficial legislation, the primary objective being to provide a statutory scheme for compensation of victims of motor vehicle accidents.
The IPC, on the other hand, is punitive and deterrent in nature. The principal aim and object is to punish offenders for offences committed under the IPC, the bench said.
The top court noted that it has consistently held that the MV Act is a complete code in itself in so far as motor vehicles are concerned. “However, there is no bar under the MV Act or otherwise, to try and prosecute offences under the IPC for an offence relating to motor vehicle accidents,” it said.