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Road Traffic Offences Can Be Prosecuted Under Both IPC & Motor Vehicles Act: SC Sets Aside Gauhati HC Directive [Read Judgment]

Ashok Kini
5 Oct 2019 8:37 AM GMT
Road Traffic Offences Can Be Prosecuted Under Both IPC & Motor Vehicles Act: SC Sets Aside Gauhati HC Directive [Read Judgment]
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"Such an interpretation would have the consequence of letting an offender get away with a fine by pleading guilty."

The Supreme Court has observed that road traffic offences can be prosecuted under Motor Vehicles Act as well as Indian Penal Code.The bench comprising Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice Khanna observed thus while setting aside the direction issued by the Gauhati High Court to States of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh that road traffic offences shall...

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The Supreme Court has observed that road traffic offences can be prosecuted under Motor Vehicles Act as well as Indian Penal Code.

The bench comprising Justice Indu Malhotra and Justice Khanna observed thus while setting aside the direction issued by the Gauhati High Court to States of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh that road traffic offences shall be dealt with only under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act and not under the provisions of Indian Penal Code.

Gauhati HC Judgment

According to the High Court, the status of the M.V. Act is at par with the IPC and Cr.P.C (as both are placed in concurrent list), and it cannot be presumed that M.V. Act is either a subordinate legislation, or inferior to the IPC and Cr.P.C in status. It said that the Section 5 of the IPC recognizes the supremacy of the special laws, which cannot be diluted under the garb of Section 26 of the General Clauses Act, 1897. The High Court had further held that if a person cannot be convicted for causing hurt to any person while driving a motor vehicle in a rash and dangerous manner under the MV Act, then the said offender cannot also be convicted under the IPC, since the IPC does not expressly take within its purview road traffic offences. The High Court, in the impugned judgment, directed the States of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, and to issue appropriate directions to all subordinate officers to ordinarily register cases against offenders of motor vehicle accidents only under the provisions of the M.V. Act subject to the exception under S. 304 IPC. State of Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh assailed this judgment before the Apex Court.

In State Of Arunachal Pradesh vs. Ramchandra Rabidas @ Ratan Rabidas, the Apex Court bench observed that offences under Chapter XIII of the MV Act, cannot abrogate the applicability of the provisions under Sections 297, 304, 304A, 337 and 338 of the IPC. It noted that 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.

The interpretation made by the High Court, 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, the bench added.

Following are the important observations made in this judgment.

There is no conflict between the provisions of the IPC and the MV Act.

The bench, referring to provisions in both the enactments, observed that they operate in entirely different spheres.

Both the statutes operate in entirely different spheres. The offences provided under both the statutes are separate and distinct from each other. The penal consequences provided under both the statutes are also independent and distinct from each other. The ingredients of offences under the both statutes, as discussed earlier, are different, and an offender can be tried and punished independently under both statutes. The principle that the special law should prevail over the general law, has no application in cases of prosecution of offenders in road accidents under the IPC and M.V. Act

No Provisions In MV Act Dealing with Offences Causing Death, Grievous Hurt etc.

There is no provision under the M.V. Act which separately deals with offences causing death, or grievous hurt, or hurt by a motor vehicle in cases of motor vehicle accidents. Chapter XIII of the M.V. Act is silent about the act of rash and negligent driving resulting in death, or hurt, or grievous hurt, to persons nor does it prescribe any separate punishment for the same; whereas Sections 279, 304 Part II, 17 304A, 337 and 338 of the IPC have been specifically framed to deal with such offences
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. 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. The principle of proportionality between the crime and punishment has to be borne in mind.

Punishment Stricter In IPC

The principle of just punishment is the bedrock of sentencing in respect of a criminal offence. The maximum imprisonment for a first time offence under Chapter XIII of the M.V. Act, is up to only six months; whereas the maximum imprisonment for a first time offence under the IPC in relation to road traffic offences can go upto 10 years under Section 304 Part II of the IPC. The sentence imposed by the courts should be commensurate with the seriousness of the offence, and should have a deterring effect on wrongdoers. The punishment of offenders of motor vehicle accidents under the IPC is stricter and proportionate to the offence committed, as compared with the M.V. Act 

Such an interpretation would have the consequence of letting an offender get away with a fine by pleading guilty

The court also noted that the offences under Chapter XIII of the MV Act are compoundable in nature in view of Section 208(3) of the MV Act, whereas offences under Section 279, 304 Part II and 304A IPC are not. It said:

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. 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.

Click here to Read/Download Judgment


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