Bus Accident deaths: Supreme Court reduces jail term of bus owner, driver without license who drove with wrist deformity

The Supreme Court recently reduced the punishment awarded to two persons convicted for causing a bus accident that led to 5 deaths and 63 injuries [Jinu Sebastian and Anr. vs State of Kerala]

One of the convicts, who was driving the bus, had a deformity on his left wrist. The owner of the bus, the second convict who was also the driver’s brother, was aware of this.

A bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan observed that the accident could have occurred due to any reason and could not be attributed solely to the deformity on the left wrist of the driver.

“The accident may have occurred due to rash and negligent driving or due to any other reason. The accident cannot be attributed solely to the deformity of the left wrist of accused-appellant No.1 as there is no concrete evidence in that regard,” the Court stated.

Hence, it sentenced the driver to 1-year imprisonment while the owner of the bus was sentenced to 4 months in jail along with a fine of ₹7.5 lacs.

The Court was hearing an appeal against an order of the Kerala High Court, which had upheld a sentence of 5 years of rigorous imprisonment for both convicts.

The two had been convicted for the offense under Section 304(II) read with Section 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)

Part II of Section 304 provides punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder for an act committed with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death, but without an intention to cause death or to cause a bodily injury that is likely to cause death.

The counsel for the appellants stated that even though the driver did not possess a driving license, the mishap was not caused due to his rash or negligent driving. As such, the trial court should not have convicted the two appellants, the Supreme Court was told.

Alternatively, the counsel suggested that even if the conviction was to be affirmed, the sentence could be modified.

He pointed out that a disproportionate punishment of 5 years of rigorous imprisonment was levied, without any fine. The appellants argued that this jail sentence could have been shorter and accompanied by a fine.

On the other hand, the State supported the High Court order and underscored that the accident resulted in the demise of 5 passengers and injuries to 63 others.

After considering the rival submissions, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, although it opined that the sentence imposed by the trial court called for modification.

All the same, the bench pointed out that people had lost their lives or were injured due to the accident.

Considering the peculiar aspects of the case, the Court found that rigorous imprisonment of 5 years, which was the penalty imposed on the two convicts, was disproportionate.

The Court also took critical note that the owner of the bus was awarded the same sentence as the driver, even though his role was limited to allowing his brother to drive the bus.

The Court added that it was also not proper to invoke Section 34 of the IPC since there was no common intention to cause the death of the passengers by causing a road traffic accident.

“Therefore, to that extent, there has been nonapplication of mind by the trial court and the same being affirmed by the High Court is not just and proper,” the Supreme Court said.

With these observations, it reduced the sentence awarded to the two convicts.

The Court proceeded to reduce the sentence awarded to the driver from 5 years of rigorous imprisonment to 1 year of jail time. Since he had already spent 10 months in prison, the Court directed his release after the completion of a year in jail.

The Court reduced the bus owner’s sentence to the 4 months he had already undergone in prison along with a fine of ₹7,50,000.

The Court further directed that once the fine is deposited, the trial court should release ₹1.5 lakhs each to the families of the 5 deceased.

The appellants were represented by advocates Sriram Parakkat, Alim Anvar, Vedhagiri Chalka, Babu Karukapadath, Shaji J Kodankandath, and Mohammed Sadique TA.

The State was represented by advocates Meena K Palouse and CK Sasi.

Source: Bar and Bench.

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