Ratan Singh Vs. State of Punjab 
INSC 196 (3 October 1979)
CITATION: 1980 AIR 84 1980 SCR (1) 846 1979
SCC (4) 719
Indian Penal Code-S. 304A-Rash and negligent
driving- Sentence of TWO years rigorous imprisonment-If excessive.
Sentencing-Punishment for driving
offences-Policy of correction-Course for better driving-occasional parole-
The petitioner, a driver, of a heavy
automobile, was sentenced to two years rigorous imprisonment under s. 304A IPC
for having killed a scooterist by his rash and negligent driving of the
vehicle. The petitioners plea that someone else was responsible for the
accident was rejected by the trial and appellate courts.
on the question whether the sentence was
HELD: Rashness and negligence are relative
concepts, not absolute abstractions. The law under s. 304A IPC and under the
rubric of negligence, must have regard to the fatal frequency of rash driving
of heavy duty vehicles and of speeding menaces. It is fair, therefore, to apply
the role of res ipsa loquitur with care. When a life has been lost And the
circumstances of driving are harsh, no compassion can be shown. [848 A-B, D]
The petitioner deserves no consideration on the question of conviction and
sentence. [848 C] [(a) Sentencing must have a policy of correction.
When the punishment is for driving offences,
the State should attach a course for better driving together with a livelier
sense of responsibility and in the case of men with poor families, the State
may consider occasional parole and reformatory course. [848 E-F] (b) Victim
reparation is still the vanishing point of criminal law. The victims of the
crime, and the distress of dependents of the prisoner, do not attract the
attention of the law. This deficiency in the system must be rectified by the
CRIMINAL APPELLATE JURISDICTION: Special
Leave Petition (Crl.) No. 953 of 1979.
From the Judgment and order dated 13-10-1978
of the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Crl. Revision No. 1021 of 1978.
A. S. Sohl and R. C. Kohli for the
The order of the Court was delivered by
KRISHNA IYER, J.-This petition for special leave under Art. 136 is by a truck
driver whose lethal hands at the wheel of an heavy automobile has taken the
life of a scooters-a deadly spectacle 847 becoming so common these days in our
towns and cities. This is a Case which is more a portent than an event and is
symbolic of the callous yet tragic traffic chaos and treacherous unsafely of
public transportation-the besetting sin of our highways which are more like
fatal facilities than means of mobility. More people die of road accidents than
by most diseases, so much so the Indian highways are among the top killers of
the country. What with frequent complaints of the State's misfeasance in the
maintenance of roads in good trim, the absence of public interest litigation to
call state transport to order, and the lack of citizens' tort consciousness,
and what with the neglect in legislating into law no-fault liability and the
induction on the roads of heavy duty vehicles beyond the capabilities of the
highways system, Indian Transport is acquiring a menacing reputation which
makes travel a tryst with Death.
It looks as if traffic regulations are
virtually dead and police checking mostly absent. By these processes of
lawlessness, public roads are now lurking death traps. The State must rise to
the gravity of the situation and provide road safety measures through active
police presence beyond frozen indifference, through mobilisation of popular
organisations in the field of road safety, frightening publicity for gruesome
accidents, and promotion of strict driving licensing and rigorous vehicle
invigilation, lest human life should hardly have a chance for highway use.
These strong observations have become
imperative because of the escalating statistics of road casualties.
Many dangerous drivers plead in court, with
success, that someone else is at fault. In the present case, such a plea was
put forward with a realistic touch but rightly rejected by the courts below.
Parking of heavy vehicles on the wrong side, hurrying past traffic signals on
the sly, neglecting to keep to the left of the road, driving vehicles crisscross
often in a spirituous state, riding scooters without helmets and with whole
families on pillions, thoughtless cycling and pedestrian jay walking with
lawless ease, suffocating jam- packing of stage carriages and hell-driving of
mini-buses, overloading of trucks with perilous projections and, above all,
police man, if any, proving by helpless presence that law is dead in this
milieu charged with melee-such is the daily, hourly scene of summons by Death
to innocent persons who take to the roads, believing in the bonafide of the
traffic laws. We hope that every State in India will take note of the human
price of highway neglect, of State transport violations and the like, with a
sombre sensitivity and reverence for life.
This, however, does not excuse the accused
from his rash driving of a 'blind Leviathan in berserk locomotion'.
If we may adapt the words of Lord Green M.R.:
'It scarcely lies in the mouth of 848 the truck driver who plays with fire to
complain of burnt fingers'. Rashness and negligence are relative concepts, not
absolute abstractions. In our current conditions, the law under sec. 304-A IPC
and under the rubric of Negligence, must have due regard to the fatal frequency
of rash driving of heavy duty vehicles and of speeding menaces. Thus viewed, it
is fair to apply the rule of res ipsa loquitur, of course, with care.
Conventional defences, except under compelling evidence, must break down before
the pragmatic Court and must be given short shrift. Looked at from this angle,
we are convinced that the present case deserves no consideration on the
question of conviction.
Counsel for petitioner has contended that a
sentence of 2 years' R.I. is excessive, especially having regard to the fact
that the petitioner has a large family to maintain and the proprietor of the
truck has left his family in the cold.
When a life has been lost and the
circumstances of driving are harsh, no compassion can be shown. We do not
interfere with the sentence, although the owner is often not morally innocent.
Nevertheless, sentencing must have a policy
of correction. This driver, if he has to become a good driver, must have a
better training in traffic laws and moral responsibility, with special
reference to the potential injury to human life and limb. Punishment in this 1:
area must, therefore, be accompanied by these components. The State, we hope,
will attach a course for better driving together with a livelier sense of
responsibility, when the punishment is for driving offences. Maybe, the State
may consider? in cases of men with poor families, occasional parole and
reformatory courses on appropriate application, without the rigour of the old
rules which are subject to Government discretion.
The victimisation of The family of the
convict may well be a reality and is regrettable. It is a weakness of our
jurisprudence that the victims of the crime, and the distress of the dependents
of the prisoner, do not attract the attention of the law. Indeed, victim
reparation is still the vanishing point of our criminal law ! This is a
deficiency in the system which must be rectified by the Legislature. We can
only draw attention to this matter.
Hopefully, the Welfare State will bestow
better thought and action to traffic justice in the light of the observations
we have made. We dismiss the special leave petition.
N.V.K. Petition dismissed.