Arnab Rao spent over two months at Hooghly Jail in Chinsurah, near Kolkata, denied bail following a driving accident that caused the death of Bengali folk singer Kalika Prasad Bhattacharya. When Calcutta High Court finally granted him bail on May 20, it observed that the driver, 22, should have been charged under IPC section 304A (death by negligence) rather than the more stringent 304 (culpable homicide).
Rao’s lawyer, Jayanta Narayan Chattapadhyay, who insists that cases such as these merit charges under section 304A, has drawn a comparison with the case of actor Vikram Chatterjee, who had been driving during the accident that caused the death of model Sonika Chauhan. “It’s been proved that Chatterjee was driving at very high speed and yet he was booked under 304A instead of section 304,” Chattapadhyay said.
On Tuesday, a month after the April 29 accident that killed Chauhan, Kolkata police did slap charges under section 304 on Chatterjee. The actor had initially denied having drunk and later admitted it. Following his initial booking under 304A, he had surrendered and promptly got bail. Now, joint CP (crime) Vishal Garg said “Reports have proved that car was at high speed and this can be considered as a deliberate act. Hence we moved the court, which has accepted our prayer to book Chatterjee under section 304.”
The accident involving Rao happened on March 7. The SUV he was driving was hit from behind by a truck in on the Durgapur Expressway in Burdwan, and fell into a shallow water body, killing Prasad who was in the front seat. The Hooghly police charged Rao under section 304 as well as 279 (rash driving) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life) and arrested him on March 12.
The Hooghly police say Rao was speeding and was hence booked under 304. “At times, the intention of a person is not to kill someone but his action may killed a person anyway. He was booked under the section only after we found sufficient evidence against him,” an official said.
“It was an open case of 304A. Section 304 says my intention was not to kill someone but my action did so. Now a person can be booked under this if he was drunk and endangered life of others by driving at an extremely high speed. Rao wasn’t drunk,” Chattapadhyay says.
The trial court denied Rao bail on March 13. On May 16, high court Justices Ashim Kumar Roy and Amitava Chatterjee observed that Rao should have been charged under section 304A. “Moreover, there is no possibility of him tampering with the evidence if he is released on bail. So, this court is granting the petitioner bail,” the bench ruled.
Rao walked out of jail only on May 20, after his mother finally arranged the Rs 20,000 bail bond. “My son is not a celebrity like Vikram Chattrejee, which is why he was put behind bars for over two months,” said his mother, Karobi Ghosh. “I am not saying police should not have registered a case against him. But the law must treat everyone equally, shouldn’t it?”
Karobi says her son was approached by a member of Kalika Prasad’s band to drive the vehicle on the day of the accident. He is the sole breadwinner of the family of three, which includes another son. She is separated from her husband, who owns a TV repair shop.