Expresses concern at rising number of deaths in road accidents
Expressing serious concern over the rising number of deaths in road accidents, the Supreme Court on Thursday called for revisiting the sentencing policy to ensure harsh punishment for the ‘killers on wheels’.
Upholding the three-year jail sentence awarded by the Bombay High Court to Alister Anthony Pareira for causing the death of seven persons when his car ran into the pavement in Mumbai, a Bench of Justices R.M. Lodha and K.S. Khehar said the punishment must be in proportion to the crime.
Writing the judgment, Justice Lodha said, “The punishment to be awarded for a crime must not be irrelevant but it should conform to and be consistent with the atrocity and brutality with which the crime has been perpetrated, the enormity of the crime warranting public abhorrence and it should “respond to the society’s cry for justice against the criminal.”
The Bench said: “The World Health Organisation, in the Global Status Report on Road Safety, has pointed out that speeding and drunk driving are the major contributing factors in road accidents. According to National Crime Records Bureau [NCRB], the total number of deaths due to road accidents in India every year is now over 1,35,000. The NCRB report also states drunken driving as a major factor for road accidents.”
It said the country had the dubious distinction of registering the highest number of deaths in road accidents. “It is high time lawmakers revisit the sentencing policy reflected in Section 304 A IPC [death due to negligence]. It is true that the appellant has paid compensation of Rs. 8,50,000 but no amount of compensation could relieve the family of victims from the constant agony. As a matter of fact, the High Court had been quite considerate and lenient in awarding to the appellant a sentence of three years for an offence under Section 304 Part II IPC [death caused by driving] where seven persons were killed.”
According to the Bench, “the facts and circumstances of the case which have been proved by the prosecution in bringing home the guilt of the accused under Section 304 Part II IPC undoubtedly show despicable aggravated offence warranting punishment proportionate to the crime. Seven precious human lives were lost by the act of the accused. For an offence like this which has been proved against the appellant, the sentence of three years awarded by the High Court is too meagre and not adequate but since no appeal has been preferred by the State, we refrain from considering the matter for enhancement.”
“Travesty of justice”
On the plea for letting the appellant off with the sentence already undergone i.e. two months in a case like this, the Bench said “in our view, it would be travesty of justice and highly unjust, unfair, improper and disproportionate to the gravity of crime.”
It said: “We are satisfied that the facts and circumstances of the case do not justify benefit of probation to the appellant for good conduct or for any reduction of sentence. The appeals are, accordingly, dismissed. The appellant’s bail bonds are cancelled. He shall forthwith surrender for undergoing the remaining sentence as awarded by the High Court in the judgment dated September 6, 2007.”
J VENKATESAN IN THE HINDU
A vacation Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and A.K. Patnaik said: “There is no bar on accepting the evidence of related witnesses. Merely because the witnesses are related to the complainant or the deceased, their evidence cannot be thrown out. If their evidence is found consistent and true, the fact of their being relatives cannot by itself discredit their evidence.”
Writing the judgment, Justice Sathasivam said: “The evidence of an interested witness does not suffer from any infirmity as such, but the courts require as a rule of prudence — not as a rule of law — that the evidence of such witnesses be scrutinised with a little care. Once that approach is made and the court is satisfied that the evidence of the interested witness has a ring of truth, such evidence could be relied upon even without corroboration. If after a careful analysis and scrutiny of their evidence, the version given by them appears clear, cogent and credible, there is no reason to discard the same.”
The Bench, after analysing a series of earlier judgments, said: “When the eyewitnesses are stated to be interested in and inimically disposed to the accused, it has to be noted that it would not be proper to conclude that they would shield the real culprit and rope in innocent persons. The truth or otherwise of the evidence has to be weighed pragmatically, and the court would be required to analyse the evidence of related witnesses and those witnesses who are inimically disposed to the accused. Relationship cannot be a factor to affect the credibility of an eyewitness.”
In the instant case, Waman and 10 others were awarded life imprisonment by a trial court in Maharashtra in a case of murder of two persons. The Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court confirmed their conviction and sentence. Four of the 11 accused challenged the High Court’s order, chiefly on the ground that the crucial evidence given by women members of the family of the complainant, being close relatives, could not be relied upon for their conviction.
Rejecting the appellants’ contention and dismissing the appeal, the Bench said: “It is important to note that the evidence of all the witnesses is corroborated by medical evidence. It is true that there is some variance in the testimony…describing [a] particular weapon held by the persons and [the] injuries on the body of the deceased. However, as rightly analysed by the trial court and accepted by the High Court, the testimony of these witnesses is convincing and trustworthy…, and there is no reason to disbelieve their statements.”
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