'Fear of jail term can keep rash drivers under check'

NEW DELHI, MAY 7. ``Bearing in mind the galloping trend in road accidents in India and the devastating consequences visiting the victims and their families, criminal courts cannot treat the nature of the offence under Section 304-A Indian Penal Code (IPC) as attracting the benevolent provisions of Section 4 of the Probation of Offenders Act'' (P.O. Act), the Supreme Court has ruled.

While considering the quantum of sentence to be imposed for the offence of causing death by rash or negligent driving of automobiles (under Section 304-A), one of the prime considerations should be deterrence, the Bench said.

Delivering the judgment of the Bench, Mr. Justice K. T. Thomas affirmed a sentence of imprisonment for three months and one year, (under Sections 279 and 304-A of IPC) imposed by the Trial Court and Sessions Court in related proceedings on a driver of Haryana Roadways bus who knocked down a cyclist to death on July 4, 1994.

The Bench, which included Mr. Justice Doraiswamy Raju, in dismissing an appeal by special leave from the driver against the judgment of the Punjab and Haryana High Court expressed its ``inability to lean to the benevolent provision to Section 4 of the P.O. Act''. (The High Court also took the same view as the Courts below).

Parliament made it clear ``that only if the court forms the opinion that it is expedient to release him - (an offender found guilty of having committed an offence not punishable with death or imprisonment for life) - on probation for his good conduct regard being had to the circumstances of the case'', the Bench said referring to Section 4 of the PO Act. ``One of the circumstances which cannot be sidelined in forming the said opinion is `the nature of the offence','' the Bench pointed out.

``A professional driver must always keep in his mind the fear psyche that if he is convicted of the offence for causing death of a human being due to his callous driving of vehicle, he cannot escape from jail sentence,'' the Bench noted and added that ``this is the role which the courts can play, particularly at the level of trial courts, for lessening the high rate of motor accidents due to callous driving of automobiles.''

``All those who are manning the steering of automobiles, particularly professional drivers, must be kept under constant reminders of their duty to adopt utmost care and also of the consequences befalling them in cases of dereliction,'' the Bench emphasised and noted that ``one of the most effective ways of keeping such drivers under mental vigil is to maintain deterrent element in sentencing sphere.''

``Any latitude shown to them in that sphere would tempt them to make driving frivolous and frolic,'' the Bench cautioned.