The main problem is the severe lack of self-discipline

Mumbai has the dubious distinction of being the number one city in hit-and-run cases in the country. According to the latest data released by the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in January this year, Mumbai tops the list of hit-and-run accidents in 28 metropolitan cities with 1,980 cases in 2009 — up from 1,360 cases in 2008.

“There is a limit to the monitoring mechanism, may it be the patrols by the traffic police or nakabandis. The main problem is the severe lack of self-discipline and responsibility among the youth. Most persons involved in such cases are youngsters. There is a cultural shift in their attitude. There is speeding, alcoholism,” said Alka Shah, a road safety adviser at the grievance committee of Maharashtra Police Headquarters.

The police too agree with it. Mumbai Joint Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Vivek Phansalkar said: “What we have observed is, there is growing irresponsibility.”

Asked if there was any pattern in such cases, he said, “Irresponsibility has no patterns. It is all-pervasive. But largely we have seen that in cases of fatal accidents, hit-and-run cases, the accused and even the victims belong to the age group 18-35.”

Regarding the problems faced during the investigation of such cases, he said: “No one wants to get into a police case. Even in hit-and-run or fatal accidents, which occur in broad daylight, people do not note down the number of the vehicle, they shy away from helping the victims. The police have been sensitised sufficiently. We ensure that those who help the police do not face any problems,” he said.

“Road accident is the fifth major cause of death in India after malaria. The government spends lakhs on malaria, but there are no funds for awareness campaigns,” Ms. Shah said. The number of accidents in the city in the year 2011 stood at 21,487.

Lack of responsibility among the drivers was the major cause for hit-and-run cases, she said. “In the case of celebrities or high-profile drivers, there is an element of arrogance as well.”

But activists said the police and the judiciary had been strict with those involved in such cases in the city. “I remember when actor John Abraham was caught for rash driving, the court did not grant him any leeway. He had to remain in the court during the hearing,” Ms. Shah said.

Recently, Paramdeep Sandhu (41), son of a former Punjab Inspector-General, was arrested for drunken driving after his SUV rammed a 33-year-old vendor's cycle in Versova at 1.30 a.m. He tried to run away, but was nabbed. He is alleged to have abused the police and boasted about his father. He was later granted bail by a local court.

Mumbaikars will also not forget the 2006 hit-and-run case where a 20-something Alistair Pareira's Toyota Corolla ran over 15 construction workers sleeping on the pavement. Seven labourers were killed. The Supreme Court recently cancelled his bail and upheld the Bombay High Court's verdict of three years' imprisonment for the accused.

Nooriya Haveliwala, another youth in her 20s who was involved in a hit-and-run accident, got bail within months after she was arrested in January 2010. She was found to be under the influence of alcohol when her SUV mowed down a policeman and a motorcyclist.

Senior State government officials said the need of the hour was an amendment to the current laws for better prosecution.

In hit-and-run cases, the sections slapped against the accused are bailable. “In most cases, even before the victim is wheeled into the hospital, the accused get bail,” a senior police officer, who did not wish to be named, said.

The State government was now mulling over amending Section 304(a) of the Indian Penal Code wherein certain classes of acts such as drunken driving would be made non-bailable offences, a highly placed officer told The Hindu.

“In hit-and-run cases, the Sections slapped are 279 or 304 or 304(a) of the IPC. What we have observed is, in cases where 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) is slapped, the lower courts do not uphold it,” a senior officer said.