In January, the Brihanmumbai Electricity Supply and Transport (BEST) informed the Mumbai Police that it will not send its drivers to become witnesses for panchnamas because they are not public servants. The Mumbai Police has now responded that bus drivers will not be considered as public servants if someone assaults them. Police will prosecute the cases as regular assault cases. According to the letter BEST sent the police, the undertaking is not in favour of sending drivers to the police, who require public servants as witnesses during panchanamas, which are procedures for recording evidence for certain crimes. The letter added that bus drivers are not public servants and so should be exempt from witness duty.
However, the Mumbai Police responded strongly to the letter, writing that cases of assault against bus drivers would not be prosecuted under section 353 of the Indian Penal Code, which penalises individuals who assault public servants and use criminal force to deter them from carrying out their official duties. The section carries a jail term of up to two years and a fine or both. BEST bus drivers are often in the line of fire, being frequently roughed up by passengers or beaten during road accidents by motorists.
Deven Bharti, Joint Commissioner of Police, Law and Order, said that the police view has been conveyed to the state home department. “They (bus drivers) will not be considered as public servants if someone assaults them. The cases will be prosecuted as regular assault cases,” he said.
Senior police officials said while BEST employees were not called very often, the undertaking was still expected to send its employees when a request is made.
BEST General Manager Jagdish Patil said the undertaking routinely receives requests from the police at a time when it is functioning under a staff crunch. “If I want to run at 100 per cent capacity, I will have to recruit 38 per cent more drivers. They are entitled to 105 days of leave and work double shifts. So if I keep sending them for panchnama work, how will we function?”