The case verdict establishes drunken driving to be a more severe offence, says Devesh K. Pandey

The conviction of Sanjeev Nanda in the infamous BMW hit-and-run case should serve as a stern warning to those who drink and drive. The judgment has in a way set a precedent, making drunken driving a more severe offence.

The case against Nanda was built round three broad arguments. The prosecution charged that at the time of the accident the alcohol content in the blood of the accused was at such a level that it prevented his nervous system from functioning properly. According to the medico-legal certificate, Sanjeev’s gait was unsteady and eyes bilaterally dilated.

“There is a marked difference between negligence and committing an offence having the knowledge of it. If a truck driver reverses the vehicle not knowing that someone is standing behind it and may get hurt, it will be a negligent act. However, if the same is done by a person who does not know how to drive, it means that the accused had the knowledge that his act could cause injury or death,” said a Prosecution Department official.

And so the culprit, who was under the influence of alcohol to an extent that it hampered normal functioning of his nervous system, was in the know that driving in that state was dangerous for himself and others. Under these circumstances, the culprit driving at top speed knocked down six persons including three policemen and drove away leaving the injured behind shouting for help.

Retracing the scene of crime, the police records state that skid-marks of a vehicle were seen on the road. The head of an unknown body was found crushed. The body of a policeman was also found crushed. His right leg was detached, lying at some distance. The abdomen of another victim had ruptured and blood was spread all over the road.

The other ground was that there were tangible facts establishing that vigorous attempts had been made to destroy the evidence of offence by washing the car involved in the accident. While the broken registration number plate of the vehicle was found on the spot, the police also found blood stains inside the vehicle that connected it to the culprit. Moreover, it was the trail of leaking oil that led them to the house where the damaged vehicle was being washed.

The scene of crime and the post-accident activities of the accused served as an argument seeking his conviction.

Apart from highlighting the negative repercussions of drunken driving, the case exposed the manner in which witnesses are won over during trial. A sting operation carried out by NDTV exposing the defence-prosecution nexus in trying to bail out the accused by winning over a witness also uncovered the grey areas of the present criminal judicial system.

While pronouncing the judgment, the court observed that “this trial poses greater questions as to what is the meaning of a fair trial and how the court should proceed when the witnesses are being won over and the trial is being hijacked by the high and mighty”. Rightly so, the court said, where there was a clear proof of offenders indulging in winning over witnesses, a new principle of sentencing had to be devised to award a higher quantum of punishment.