High court: Rash driving, negligence can’t be presumed unless supported by evidence
The prosecution case was that the truck driver in question hit a scooter wherein a person was riding with his wife in June 1999 at a traffic light in Amritsar
In an important judgment, the Punjab and Haryana high court has asserted that in road accidents cases no presumption of negligence or rashness can be drawn unless allegations are supported by credible evidence.
“It was for the prosecution to bring on record material to establish as to what it meant by “high speed. In a criminal trial, the burden of providing everything essential to the establishment of the charge against an accused always rests on the prosecution and there is a presumption of innocence in favour of the accused until the contrary is proved. Merely because the truck was being driven at a “high speed” does not bespeak of either “negligence” or “rashness” by itself,” the high court bench of justice Aman Chaudhary observed quashing July 2007 order of Amritsar additional sessions judge on conviction of a truck driver in a fatal accident case.
The prosecution case was that the truck driver in question hit a scooter wherein a person was riding with his wife in June 1999 at a traffic light in Amritsar. The allegation was that as and when traffic light turned green and he put his scooter in motion, a truck coming from behind allegedly hit the scooter, due to which, they fell down and his wife sustained injuries, who succumbed to the same at the hospital. The truck driver was awarded up to two years jail, upon conviction under Section 304-A (causing death by negligence due to rash and negligent driving) of the IPC. It was upheld by the appellate court following which the driver had approached the high court in 2007.
The court noted that a large number of vehicles had stopped behind the scooter, which was allegedly hit by the offending truck at the traffic signal. It said, even if the version witnesses regarding the truck coming from behind at high speed in a rash and negligent manner are taken to be a gospel truth, the possibility of it hitting only the scooter and no other vehicles was highly improbable.
The court added that there is a conspicuous absence of evidence even remotely establishing that the offending vehicle at that relevant time was being driven in a rash and negligent manner, that too at high speed. None of the witnesses examined by the prosecution could give any indication, even approximately as to what they meant by “high speed”, which though is a relative term, it added.
“An act, in order to impose criminal liability under Section 304-A of the IPC must be the proximate and efficient cause without the intervention of the negligence of the other,” the court said, referring to the facts of the case and adding that it was not established that the victims were complying with all norms as per the MV Act — such as wearing of helmets etc.
The court further said it was for the prosecution to establish its case beyond the shadow of reasonable doubt. “In the absence of any material on the record, no presumption of “rashness” or “negligence” could be drawn by invoking the maxim “res ipsa loquitur” (the matter speaks for itself). Onus in this regard is heavy upon the prosecution. It is under obligation to prove the same by leading credible evidence. Allegations alone are not sufficient to hold a person guilty of an offence punishable under Sections 279 (rash driving or riding on a public way) and 304-A of the IPC,” the bench added.