26 Aug 2023 1:13 AM GMT
The Supreme Court on Friday(August 25) dismissed Kerala IAS officer Sreeram Venkittaraman’s petition challenging the Kerala High Court’s order which resorted culpable homicide charge against him in the 2019 drunken driving case which led to the killing of a journalist named KM Basheer.A bench comprising Justices CT Ravikumar and Sanjay Kumar refused to interfere with the High Court’s...
The Supreme Court on Friday(August 25) dismissed Kerala IAS officer Sreeram Venkittaraman’s petition challenging the Kerala High Court’s order which resorted culpable homicide charge against him in the 2019 drunken driving case which led to the killing of a journalist named KM Basheer.
A bench comprising Justices CT Ravikumar and Sanjay Kumar refused to interfere with the High Court’s order. The bench however clarified that the observations made by the High Court are limited only to the criminal revision and won’t prejudice the trial.
Senior Advocate R Basant and Advocate Ragenth Basant appeared for the petitioner.
On 13th April 2023, the Kerala High Court had set aside a Sessions Court order dropping culpable homicide charges against Venkitaraman in the infamous road rage case. The order was however upheld to the extent it discharged Venkittaraman under Sections 184 and 185 of the Motor Vehicles Act, that relates to dangerous driving and drunken driving, and Section 3(2) of the Prevention of Damage to Public Property.
A single bench of Justice Bechu Kurian Thomas of the Kerala High Court had observed:
"Driving vehicles after consuming alcohol can lead to temporary or partial impairment of cognitive faculties. This disability can lead to error in judgment relating to distance calculation, distinguishing objects, speed control and even other factors that are essential for safe driving. Blurred vision and reaction to sudden stimuli are also known consequences of alcohol consumption. Thus, when a motor vehicle is driven after consuming alcohol, road accidents become a predictable consequence. In such a scenario, attributing knowledge to the driver of the vehicle that death can be likely consequence of drunken driving is legally tenable".
In 2019, a journalist K.M. Basheer was allegedly killed when a vehicle driven by Venkittaraman, ran over him at high speed, at Museum Junction in Thiruvananthapuram District of Kerala. It was alleged that Venkittaraman, who was accompanied by Wafa Firoz, was in an inebriated state, which led to the accident.
Initially, he attempted to wriggle out of the situation by alleging that he was not driving and that the driver was a lady seated beside him. However, eyewitnesses identified a male as the person behind the wheels.
The offences under Sections 304 and 201 IPC and Section 3(1)(2) of the Prevention of Damages to Public Property Act, 1984 (hereinafter, 'PDPP') apart from Sections 184, 185 and 188 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 ('MV Act') were thus alleged to have been committed by the accused.
The doctors are said to have confirmed his inebriated state, however, later it was disclosed that there was an omission to conduct his blood test. The sample is said to have been collected only ten hours after the incident.
While Venkittaraman was suspended from service immediately following the incident, he was later reinstated as the District Collector of Alappuzha. It was pursuant to several protests that he was later removed from the post, and is presently the General Manager of SupplyCo.
The Additional Sessions Court I, Trivandrum, dropped the charges under Section 304 which provides punishment for culpable homicide and Section 201, which penalizes causing disappearance of evidence of offence or giving false information, had however maintained that the other charges under Sections 304 A (causing death by negligence) and 279 (rash and negligent driving) of the IPC and Section 184 of the Motor Vehicles Act would stand. Venkittaraman had argued that there was no evidence regarding him having driven the vehicle in a drunken state.
The State Government had thus filed a Revision Petition challenging the order dropping the charges, averring that the statements of the witnesses had revealed that Venkitaraman was in an inebriated state at the time of the incident, and had been reluctant to give his blood sample with a view to destroy the evidence, and that he had made all effort in this regard to delay treatment when he was taken to the General Hospital on the day of the accident.
It was argued by the Public Prosecutor on behalf of the State that the investigation had adduced sufficient materials to frame a charge under Section 304 IPC and other offences alleged in the final report. It was argued that Venkittaraman, who is a highly influential IAS officer and a medical doctor by graduation, had manipulated and prevented a laboratory test from being conducted on him to analyze his blood sample until 10.30 A.M. knowing that the test would have revealed the alcoholic content in his blood. It was submitted that due to this delay, the presence of alcohol in his blood was not revealed, and that by itself could not be a reason to discharge the accused under section 304 IPC, particularly in light of the numerous oral and documentary evidence available.
It was added that while considering a discharge application, the court is not expected to consider the matter as if it is a mini-trial and that if there are prima facie materials to proceed against the accused for the offences alleged, the same would be sufficient.
On behalf of Venkittaraman, however, it was argued that the order of the Sessions Judge did not call for any interference since it had independently addressed all the issues and concluded that there was no material to frame a charge under Section 304IPC and had relegated the matter to the Magistrate for framing charge under Section 304A IPC and other connected offences. It was further contended that, "except for the media projecting a case by targeting Venkittaraman, and the police playing into the hands of the media because of public pressure", there was nothing on record to frame a charge against him under Section 304IPC.
The High Court in this case perused Section 304IPC and observed that,
"Rash or negligent driving on a public road with the knowledge of the dangerous character of his act, especially when he drives in an inebriated state, can fall in the category of culpable homicide, not amounting to murder, if the injured died as a result of the injuries".
It was thus observed that a person doing an act of rash or negligent driving, if aware of the risk that a particular consequence is likely to result and that result occurs, he could be proceeded against both the act, as well as the result that ensued.
The High Court thus found the attribution of knowledge to the driver of the vehicle that death could be a likely consequence of drunken driving as legally tenable.
The High Court also noted that the doctor who had first examined Venkittaraman had written that there was the smell of alcohol.
"However, curiously, the accused was not subjected to any medical test at the said hospital and instead, even after noting the absence of any serious injuries, the first accused was referred to the Medical College. Curiously again, the police officer accompanying the first accused permitted a friend of the first accused to transfer him in his private car apparently to the Medical College Hospital. However, the first accused never reached the Medical College Hospital and instead was taken to a private hospital called MIMS Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram where, as per the statement of CW29, the nurse attached to the said hospital, first accused avoided permitting her to take a blood test until 10.30 am under one pretext or the other. By the time the blood test was taken, the sample did not reveal the presence of alcohol," it was observed.
The High Court observed that in order to prove the guilt of an accused under Section 304IPC based on drunken driving and the resulting knowledge of the consequences, it would not be essential, in every case, for documentary evidence to prove the fact of drunkenness.
"If the circumstance of the case and the statement of the witnesses inspires the Court to come to a conclusion that the accused was driving the vehicle in a drunken state, in the absence of a statutory mandate for a medical report, the absence of such a report by itself need not deter the court from arriving at such a conclusion," it was observed.
The High Court however, noted that these were matters for trial.
The High Court further discerned from the factual circumstances that "an apparent attempt on the part of the first accused to wriggle out of a timely medical test cannot be wholly ignored", and arrived at the prima facie presumption that he was over-speeding and driving the vehicle after consuming alcohol and had even caused the destruction of evidence relating to the offence.
Case Title: Sreeram Venkittaraman vs. State of Kerala, Diary No.- 27504 - 2023
Click here to read the order