Updated: October 7, 2019 8:10:19 pm
If you commit traffic offences like speeding or rash driving, you can be charged under the provisions of both The Motor Vehicles Act as well as the Indian Penal Code, the Supreme Court has ruled.
This is because “there is no conflict between the provisions of the IPC and the MV Act”, and “both the statutes operate in entirely different spheres”, the Supreme Court said on Monday.
The court struck down an order of the Gauhati High Court, which had directed that “road traffic offences shall be dealt with only under the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988”, and that “in cases of road traffic or motor vehicle offences, prosecution under the provisions of Indian Penal Code,1860 is without sanction of law”.
What Gauhati High Court said
In its judgment of December 22, 2008, the Agartala Bench of Gauhati High Court ruled that since the IPC, CrPC, and MV Act are all part of the Concurrent List, “the status of the MV Act is at par with the IPC and CrPC, and it cannot be presumed that MV Act is either a subordinate legislation, or inferior to the IPC and CrPC in status”.
According to Gauhati HC, “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 HC ruled that “to permit the prosecution of offenders under the provisions of any other penal law other than the MV Act in cases of motor vehicle offences would amount to overriding the MV Act, which is a special enactment framed by Parliament for motor vehicle offences”.
Therefore, the court said, “prosecution of offenders in cases of road traffic accidents must be carried out under the MV Act as a general rule” (barring cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder under Section 304 IPC), and to invoke the IPC “is violative of settled principles of law and contrary to the legislative intent of the MV Act”.
The HC directed the states of Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur, Tripura, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh to issue directions to “ordinarily register cases against offenders of motor vehicle accidents only under the provisions of the MV Act subject to the exception under Section 304 IPC”.
What Supreme Court ruled
The Bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and Sanjiv Khanna said that the legislative intent of the MV Act, in particular that of Chapter XIII (Sections 177-210) of the Act, which deals with ‘Offences, Penalties and Procedure’, “was not to override or supersede the provisions of the IPC in so far as convictions of offenders in motor vehicle accidents are concerned”. Offences under Chapter XIII cannot abrogate the applicability of the provisions under IPC Sections 297, 304, 304A, 337 and 338, the SC ruled.
Also, the SC said, “offences under Chapter XIII of the MV Act are compoundable in nature… whereas offences under Section 279, 304 Part II and 304A IPC are not”. Therefore, “if the IPC gives way to the MV Act, and the provisions of CrPC succumb to the provisions of the MV Act…, 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, the SC ruled, “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”.
This, the court said, could not be permitted. Those responsible for motor vehicle accidents must be punished — “India is facing an increasing burden of road traffic injuries and fatalities. The financial loss, emotional and social trauma caused to a family on losing a breadwinner, or any other member of the family, or incapacitation of the victim cannot be quantified.”
The court also underlined the principle of proportionality between crime and punishment. It pointed out that while the maximum imprisonment for a first-time offence under Chapter XIII of the MV Act was up to only six months, the maximum imprisonment for a first-time offence under the IPC in relation to road traffic offences could go up to 10 years under Section 304 Part II of the IPC.
The position of law was “well-settled”, the judges said. “This court has consistently held that the MV Act is a complete code in itself in so far as motor vehicles are concerned. However, 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.”