Licences of four out of six private bus drivers accused in fatal accidents in district in past three years have not been suspended

Even as speeding private buses in the district continue to leave behind corpses, the latest victim being a 69-year-old lady who was fatally knocked down at the municipal bus stand in Kothamangalam on Thursday, it has emerged that many accused drivers still have their licences intact. The Motor Vehicles Act stipulates that the licence of drivers involved in fatal accidents should be suspended.

The Hindu has found that the licences of four out of six private bus drivers accused in fatal accidents in the district over the last three years have not been suspended. The accidents reported between 2011 and 2013 had claimed 10 lives.

A.C. John, 66, was knocked down by a speeding private bus at Pallimukku in the morning of May 18, 2011. Shockingly, the licence (40/1231/1994) of driver Basheer K.M. was never suspended.

Robin Jacob is still driving down the city’s roads despite grievously injuring a passenger when he violently swirled his bus near General Hospital on February 15, 2012. The passenger succumbed to head injuries. Mr. Jacob’s licence (40/2025/2009) has not yet been suspended.

The story is no different in the case of Proushad P.Y. Two persons were mowed down when he rammed his bus in to a hotel at Karimugal on August 2, 2012. Bhastin, a private bus driver, knocked down a father-son duo on a motorcycle at South Chellanam on May 8, 2013. Their licences (40/4305/2003 and 43/2285/2003) also have not been cancelled.

Motor Vehicles Department (MVD) claims that a licence is suspended for a period ranging between three months and one year in cases where grievous hurt is caused and up to two years in accidents which result in death.

In another incident, an eight-year-old girl riding pillion on her mother’s motorcycle was killed when a private bus knocked down their vehicle at Vyttila Junction on November 26, 2012. It is not known whether the driving licence (36/162/2008) of the accused, Santhosh Kumar, was suspended. The address of the accused provided by the traffic police did not match the one provided by the Vaikom Regional Transport Office, which has a database on driving licences.

In fact, the licence of a driver was found suspended in just one case in which three persons were killed when a speeding private bus collided with a KSRTC bus at TVS Junction in Kalamassery on May 4, 2011. The accused driver, Unnikrishnan, was disqualified for a year as his licence (41/1447/1994) was suspended from November 17, 2011, to November 16, 2012. The ban was lifted after that period.

When contacted, the sub RTO at Perumbavur, which had issued the licence of three of the six accused bus drivers, attributed the delay in suspending the licence to pending procedural formalities. An official also said the file sent by the police might not have reached the office.

A senior MVD official said the department could not suspend a licence without conducting a hearing even though the police might have charged the driver. He, however, admitted that the delay in taking action allowed the accused to continue driving, putting the lives of the public in danger.

Drivers accused in accidents are either charged under Section 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder, a non-bailable offence) or Section 304 A (causing death by negligence, which is a bailable offence). K.S. Baby Vinod, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Traffic, said 304 IPC was charged only where the negligence of the driver was proved beyond doubt.

The police charged the accused drivers under Section 304 IPC in four out of the six cases. However, in all cases the accused secured bail after the remand period and walked free pending trial.

High Court lawyer Rajesh R. Pillai said in cases under Section 304 IPC, unless the evidence presented by the investigating officer was strong enough, the court could change the charge to 304 A IPC. “Often the account of the witness may not be strong enough. Also there are instances in which the witness may not be traceable by the time the trial starts as he might have shifted residence. That is one of the reasons for low conviction rate under 304 IPC,” he said.

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