Rich getting away by giving relief to victims: SC

The Supreme Court on Monday expressed “immense anguish” over the rich getting away lightly in road accident cases with only paying compensation to the victims.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Prafulla C Pant asked lawmakers to have a re-look at the legal provisions dealing with the awarding of sentence in such cases.

Observing that “such developing of notions is a dangerous phenomenon in an orderly society and shatters faith of the public in judicial system,” the apex court said neither the law nor courts should be oblivious to the fact that precious lives are lost in road accidents, and victims who survive are crippled for life, which in a way is a fate worse than death.

The court was dealing with an appeal filed by the Punjab government against the state high court (HC) order of reducing the sentence of a convict, whose rash driving claimed two lives, to a 24-day jail term as he had paid Rs 85,000 as compensation to the victims' family.

Though the court reduced the convict's jail term to six months, as against one year imposed by the trial court, it described the HC order as “misplaced sympathy and mockery of justice”.

“A man with the means has, in possibility, graduated himself to harbour the idea that he can escape the substantive sentence by payment of compensation,” said the bench.

“Life to the poor or impecunious is as worth living as it is to the rich and the luxuriously temperamental. Needless to say, the principle of sentencing recognises corrective measures, but there are occasions when deterrence is an imperative necessity depending upon the facts of the case,” wrote Justice Misra on behalf of the bench.
However, the court asked the legislature to revisit and scrutinise the two-year jail term with fine, or only fine, as prescribed under Section 304A (causing death by negligence) of the Indian Penal Code.

“We are compelled to observe that India has a disreputable record of road accidents. There is a nonchalant attitude among drivers. They feel they are ‘emperors of all they survey’,” said the bench.

The court also expressed concern over driving under the influence of alcohol.
“Drunkenness contributes to careless driving, where others become the drivers' prey.

The poor feel their lives are not safe, pedestrians think of uncertainty and civilised persons drive in constant fear, but still apprehensive of the obnoxious attitude of people who project themselves as ‘larger than life’,” said the bench.

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