Motor AccidentCIVIL

Explain culpability u/s 304-A IPC-causing death by negligent act while driving Motor Vehicle

Culpable rashness and culpable negligence

Introduction to the problem

A person who drives a vehicle on the road is liable to be held responsible for the act as well as for the result. It may not be always possible to determine with reference to the speed of a vehicle whether a person was driving rashly and negligently. Both these acts presuppose an abnormal conduct. Even when one is driving a vehicle at a slow speed but recklessly and negligently, it would amount to ‘rash and negligent driving’ within the meaning of the language of Section 279 IPC. That is why the legislature in its wisdom has used the words ‘manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life’. The preliminary conditions, thus, are that (a) it is the manner in which the vehicle is driven; (b) it be driven either rashly or negligently; and (c) such rash or negligent driving should be such as to endanger human life. Once these ingredients are satisfied, the penalty contemplated under Section 279 IPC is attracted.

‘Negligence’ means omission to do something which a reasonable and prudent person guided by the considerations which ordinarily regulate human affairs would do or doing something which a prudent and reasonable person guided by similar considerations would not do. Negligence is not an absolute term but is a relative one; it is rather a comparative term. It is difficult to state with precision any mathematically exact formula by which negligence or lack of it can be infallibly measured in a given case. Whether there exists negligence per se or the course of conduct amounts to negligence will normally depend upon the attending and surrounding facts and circumstances which have to be taken into consideration by the Court. In a given case, even not doing what one was ought to do can constitute negligence.

The Court has to adopt another parameter, i.e., ‘reasonable care’ in determining the question of negligence or contributory negligence. The doctrine of reasonable care imposes an obligation or a duty upon a person (for example a driver) to care for the pedestrian on the road and this duty attains a higher degree when the pedestrian happen to be children of tender years. It is axiomatic to say that while driving a vehicle on a public way, there is an implicit duty cast on the drivers to see that their driving does not endanger the life of the right users of the road, may be either vehicular users or pedestrians. They are expected to take sufficient care to avoid danger to others.

The other principle that is pressed in aid by the courts in such cases is the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. This doctrine serves two purposes – one that an accident may by its nature be more consistent with its being caused by negligence for which the opposite party is responsible than by any other causes and that in such a case, the mere fact of the accident is prima facie evidence of such negligence. Secondly, it is to avoid hardship in cases where the claimant is able to prove the accident but cannot prove how the accident occurred. The courts have also applied the principle of res ipsa loquitur in cases where no direct evidence was brought on record. The Act itself contains a provision which concerns with the consequences of driving dangerously alike the provision in the IPC that the vehicle is driven in a manner dangerous to public life. Where a person does such an offence he is punished as per the provisions of Section 184 of the Act. The courts have also taken the concept of ‘culpable rashness’ and ‘culpable negligence’ into consideration in cases of road accidents. ‘Culpable rashness’ is acting with the consciousness that mischievous and illegal consequences may follow but with the hope that they will not and often with the belief that the actor has taken sufficient precautions to prevent their happening. The imputability arises from acting despite consciousness (luxuria). ‘Culpable negligence’ is acting without the consciousness that the illegal and mischievous effect will follow, but in circumstances which show that the actor has not exercised the caution incumbent upon him and that if he had, he would have had the consciousness. The imputability arises from the neglect of civic duty of circumspection. In such a case the mere fact of accident is prima facie evidence of such negligence. This maxim suggests that on the circumstances of a given case the res speaks and is eloquent because the facts stand unexplained, with the result that the natural and reasonable inference from the facts, not a conjectural inference, shows that the act is attributable to some person’s negligent conduct. [Ref. Justice Rajesh Tandon’s ‘An Exhaustive Commentary on Motor Vehicles Act, 1988’ (First Edition, 2010].

Culpability u/s  304-A in The Indian Penal Code

304-A. Causing death by negligence

-Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.

In the case of Naresh Giri v. State of M.P. [(2008) 1 SCC 791], where a train had hit a bus being driven by the appellant at the railway crossing and the bus was badly damaged and two persons died, Apex Court, while altering the charges from Section 302 IPC to Section 304-A IPC, observed :

“7- Section 304-A IPC applies to cases where there is no intention to cause death and no knowledge that the act done in all probability will cause death. The provision is directed at offences outside the range of Sections 299 and 300 IPC. Section 304-A applies only to such acts which are rash and negligent and are directly the cause of death of another person. Negligence and rashness are essential elements under Section 304-A.

8- Section 304-A carves out a specific offence where death is caused by doing a rash or negligent act and that act does not amount to culpable homicide under Section 299 or murder under Section 300.

If a person wilfully drives a motor vehicle into the midst of a crowd and thereby causes death to some person, it will not be a case of mere rash and negligent driving and the act will amount to culpable homicide. Doing an act with the intent to kill a person or knowledge that doing an act was likely to cause a person’s death is culpable homicide. When intent or knowledge is the direct motivating force of the act, Section 304-A has to make room for the graver and more serious charge of culpable homicide. The provision of this section is not limited to rash or negligent driving. Any rash or negligent act whereby death of any person is caused becomes punishable. Two elements either of which or both of which may be proved to establish the guilt of an accused are rashness/negligence; a person may cause death by a rash or negligent act which may have nothing to do with driving at all. Negligence and rashness to be punishable in terms of Section 304-A must be attributable to a state of mind wherein the criminality arises because of no error in judgment but of a deliberation in the mind risking the crime as well as the life of the person who may lose his life as a result of the crime. Section 304-A discloses that criminality may be that apart from any mens rea, there may be no motive or intention still a person may venture or practise such rashness or negligence which may cause the death of other. The death so caused is not the determining factor.

9- What constitutes negligence has been analysed in Halsbury’s Laws of England (4th Edn.), Vol. 34, Para 1 (p. 3), as follows:
“1. General principles of the law of negligence.—Negligence is a specific tort and in any given circumstances is the failure to exercise that care which the circumstances demand. What amounts to negligence depends on the facts of each particular case. It may consist in omitting to do something which ought to be done or in doing something which ought to be done either in a different manner or not at all. Where there is no duty to exercise care, negligence in the popular sense has no legal consequence. Where there is a duty to exercise care, reasonable care must be taken to avoid acts or omissions which can be reasonably foreseen to be likely to cause physical injury to persons or property. The degree of care required in the particular case depends on the surrounding circumstances, and may vary according to the amount of the risk to be encountered and to the magnitude of the prospective injury. The duty of care is owed only to those persons who are in the area of foreseeable danger; the fact that the act of the defendant violated his duty of care to a third person does not enable the plaintiff who is also injured by the same act to claim unless he is also within the area of foreseeable danger. The same act or omission may accordingly in some circumstances involve liability as being negligent, although in other circumstances it will not do so. The material considerations are the absence of care which is on the part of the defendant owed to the plaintiff in the circumstances of the case and damage suffered by the plaintiff, together with a demonstrable relation of cause and effect between the two.”

According to the dictionary meaning “reckless” means “careless”, regardless or heedless of the possible harmful consequences of one’s acts. It presupposes that if thought was given to the matter by the doer before the act was done, it would have been apparent to him that there was a real risk of its having the relevant harmful consequences; but, granted this, recklessness covers a whole range of states of mind from failing to give any thought at all to whether or not there is any risk of those harmful consequences, to recognising the existence of the risk and nevertheless deciding to ignore it.”

In the case of Mohd. Aynuddin alias Miyam v. State of A.P. [(2000) 7 SCC 72], wherein the appellant was driving a bus and while a passenger was boarding the bus, the bus was driven which resulted in the fall of the passenger and the rear wheel of the bus ran over the passenger. supreme Court, drawing the distinction between a rash act and a negligent act held that it was culpable rashness and criminal negligence and held as under :

“7- It is a wrong proposition that for any motor accident negligence of the driver should be presumed. An accident of such a nature as would prima facie show that it cannot be accounted to anything other than the negligence of the driver of the vehicle may create a presumption and in such a case the driver has to explain how the accident happened without negligence on his part. Merely because a passenger fell down from the bus while boarding the bus, no presumption of negligence can be drawn against the driver of the bus.

9- A rash act is primarily an overhasty act. It is opposed to a deliberate act. Still a rash act can be a deliberate act in the sense that it was done without due care and caution. Culpable rashness lies in running the risk of doing an act with recklessness and with indifference as to the consequences. Criminal negligence is the failure to exercise duty with reasonable and proper care and precaution guarding against injury to the public generally or to any individual in particular. It is the imperative duty of the driver of a vehicle to adopt such reasonable and proper care and precaution.”

In the case of Thakur Singh v. State of Punjab [(2003) 9 SCC 208], the petitioner drove a bus rashly and negligently with 41 passangers and while crossing a bridge, the bus fell into the nearby canal resulting in death of all the passengers. The Court applied the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur since admittedly the petitioner was driving the bus at the relevant time and it was going over the bridge when it fell down. The Court held as under:

“4. It is admitted that the petitioner himself was driving the vehicle at the relevant time. It is also admitted that bus was driven over a bridge and then it fell into canal. In such a situation the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur comes into play and the burden shifts on to the man who was in control of the automobile to establish that the accident did not happen on account of any negligence on his part. He did not succeed in showing that the accident happened due to causes other than negligence on his part.”

20- Still, in the case of Mohd. Aynuddin (supra), apex Court has also stated the principle :

“8. The principle of res ipsa loquitur is only a rule of evidence to determine the onus of proof in actions relating to negligence. The said principle has application only when the nature of the accident and the attending circumstances would reasonably lead to the belief that in the absence of negligence the accident would not have occurred and that the thing which caused injury is shown to have been under the management and control of the alleged wrongdoer.”

Evidential Treatment if  the case is u/s 304-A IPC

In the case of Nageshwar Shri Krishna Ghobe v. State of Maharasthra [(1973) 4 SCC 23], apex Court observed that the statements of the witnesses who met with an accident while travelling in a vehicle or those of the people who were travelling in the vehicle driven nearby should be taken and understood in their correct perspective as it is not necessary that the occupants of the vehicle should be looking in the same direction. They might have been attracted only by the noise or the disturbance caused by the actual impact resulting from the accident itself. The Court held as under :

“6. In cases of road accidents by fast moving vehicles it is ordinarily difficult to find witnesses who would be in a position to affirm positively the sequence of vital events during the few moments immediately preceding the actual accident, from which its true cause can be ascertained. When accidents take place on the road, people using the road or who may happen to be in close vicinity would normally be busy in their own pre-occupations and in the normal course their attention would be attracted only by the noise or the disturbance caused by the actual impact resulting from the accident itself. It is only then that they would look towards the direction of the noise and see what had happened. It is seldom — and it is only a matter of coincidence — that a person may already be looking in the direction of the accident and may for that reason be in a position to see and later describe the sequence of events in which the accident occurred. At times it may also happen that after casually witnessing the occurrence those persons may feel disinclined to take any further interest in the matter, whatever be the reason for this disinclination. If, however, they do feel interested in going to the spot in their curiosity to know some thing more, then what they may happen to see there, would lead them to form some opinion or impression as to what in all likelihood must have led to the accident. Evidence of such persons, therefore, requires close scrutiny for finding out what they actually saw and what may be the result of their imaginative inference. Apart from the eye- witnesses, the only person who can be considered to be truly capable of satisfactorily explaining as to the circumstances leading to accidents like the present is the driver himself or in certain circumstances to some extent the person who is injured. In the present case the person who died in the accident is obviously not available for giving evidence. The bhaiya (Harbansingh) has also not been produced as a witness. Indeed, failure to produce him in this case has been the principal ground of attack by Shri Pardiwala and he has questioned the bona fides and the fairness of the prosecution as also the trustworthiness of the version given by the other witnesses.”

The question of test identification

We may refer to a judgment of supreme Court in the case of Shyamal Ghosh v. State of West Bengal [2012 (6) SCALE 381] wherein apex Court has held that the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (for short “Cr.P.C.) does not oblige the investigating agency to necessarily hold the test identification parade without exception. The Court held as under :

“55. On behalf of accused Shyamal, it was also contended that despite the identification parade being held, he was not identified by the witnesses and also that the identification parade had been held after undue delay and even when details about the incident had already been telecasted on the television. Thus, the Court should not rely upon the identification of the accused persons as the persons involved in the commission of the crime and they should be given the benefit of doubt.
56. The whole idea of a Test Identification Parade is that witnesses who claim to have seen the culprits at the time of occurrence are to identify them from the midst of other persons without any aid or any other source. The test is done to check upon their veracity. In other words, the main object of holding an identification parade, during the investigation stage, is to test the memory of the witnesses based upon first impression and also to enable the prosecution to decide whether all or any of them could be cited as eyewitnesses of the crime.

57- It is equally correct that the CrPC does not oblige the investigating agency to necessarily hold the Test Identification Parade. Failure to hold the test identification parade while in police custody, does not by itself render the evidence of identification in court inadmissible or unacceptable. There have been numerous cases where the accused is identified by the witnesses in the court for the first time. One of the views taken is that identification in court for the first time alone may not form the basis of conviction, but this is not an absolute rule. The purpose of the Test Identification Parade is to test and strengthen the trustworthiness of that evidence. It is accordingly considered a safe rule of prudence to generally look for corroboration of the sworn testimony of the witnesses in court as to the identity of the accused who are strangers to them, in the form of earlier identification proceedings. This rule of prudence is, however subjected to exceptions. Reference can be made to Munshi Singh Gautam v. State of M.P.[(2005) 9 SCC 631], Sheo Shankar Singh v State of Jharkhand and Anr. [(2011) 3 SCC 654].

58- Identification Parade is a tool of investigation and is used primarily to strengthen the case of the prosecution on the one hand and to make doubly sure that persons named accused in the case are actually the culprits. The Identification Parade primarily belongs to the stage of investigation by the police. The fact that a particular witness has been able to identify the accused at an identification parade is only a circumstance corroborative of the identification in court. Thus, it is only a relevant consideration which may be examined by the court in view of other attendant circumstances and corroborative evidence with reference to the facts of a given case.”

Discharging duty u/s 313 of Cr.P.C by the Court

It is true that the prosecution is required to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt but the provisions of Section 313 Cr.P.C. are not a mere formality or purposeless. They have a dual purpose to discharge, firstly, that the entire material parts of the incriminating evidence should be put to the accused in accordance with law and, secondly, to provide an opportunity to the accused to explain his conduct or his version of the case. To provide this opportunity to the accused is the mandatory duty of the Court. If the accused deliberately fails to avail this opportunity, then the consequences in law have to follow, particularly when it would be expected of the accused in the normal course of conduct to disclose certain facts which may be within his personal knowledge and have a bearing on the case.

In a given motor accident case, if police failed to serve notice to the owner, no prejudice to the accused by non-serving of the notice under Section 133 of MV Act and, in any case, the accused cannot take any advantage thereof.

Section 133 in The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988

Sec 133. Duty of owner of motor vehicle to give information—The owner of a motor vehicle, the driver or conductor of which is accused of any offence under this Act shall, on the demand of any police officer authorised in this behalf by the State Government, give all information regarding the name and address of, and the licence held by, the driver or conductor which is in his possession or could by reasonable diligence be ascertained by him.

In case of  Appeal by victim against acquittal

No doubt, the Court of appeal would normally be reluctant to interfere with the judgment of acquittal but this is not an absolute rule and has a number of well accepted exceptions. In the case of State of UP v. Banne & Anr. [(2009) 4 SCC 271], the Court held that even the Supreme Court would be justified in interfering with the judgment of acquittal of the High Court but only when there are very substantial and compelling reasons to discard the High Court’s decision. In the case of State of Haryana v. Shakuntala & Ors. [2012 (4) SCALE 526], apex Court held as under :

“36. The High Court has acquitted some accused while accepting the plea of alibi taken by them. Against the judgment of acquittal, onus is on the prosecution to show that the finding recorded by the High Court is perverse and requires correction by this Court, in exercise of its powers under Article 136 of the Constitution of India. This Court has repeatedly held that an appellate Court must bear in mind that in case of acquittal, there is a double presumption in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to such accused under the fundamental principles of criminal jurisprudence, i.e., that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless proved guilty before the court and secondly, that a lower court, upon due appreciation of all evidence has found in favour of his innocence. Merely because another view is possible, it would be no reason for this Court to interfere with the order of acquittal.

In Girja Prasad (Dead) By Lrs. v. State of M.P. [(2007) 7 SCC 625], apex Court held as under:-

“28. Regarding setting aside acquittal by the High Court, the learned Counsel for the appellant relied upon Kunju Muhammed v. State of Kerala (2004) 9 SCC 193, Kashi Ram v. State of M.P. AIR 2001 SC 2902 and Meena v. State of Maharashtra 2000 Cri LJ 2273. In our opinion, the law is well settled. An appeal against acquittal is also an appeal under the Code and an Appellate Court has every power to reappreciate, review and reconsider the evidence as a whole before it. It is, no doubt, true that there is presumption of innocence in favour of the accused and that presumption is reinforced by an order of acquittal recorded by the Trial Court. But that is not the end of the matter. It is for the Appellate Court to keep in view the relevant principles of law, to reappreciate and reweigh the evidence as a whole and to come to its own conclusion on such evidence in consonance with the principles of criminal jurisprudence.”

In Chandrappa v. State of Karnataka [(2007) 4 SCC 415], apex Court held as under:-

“42. From the above decisions, in our considered view, the following general principles regarding powers of the appellate court while dealing with an appeal against an order of acquittal emerge:

(1) An appellate court has full power to review, reappreciate and reconsider the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded.
(2) The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 puts no limitation, restriction or condition on exercise of such power and an appellate court on the evidence before it may reach its own conclusion, both on questions of fact and of law.
(3) Various expressions, such as, “substantial and compelling reasons”, “good and sufficient grounds”, “very strong circumstances”, “distorted conclusions”, “glaring mistakes”, etc. are not intended to curtail extensive powers of an appellate court in an appeal against acquittal. Such phraseologies are more in the nature of “flourishes of language” to emphasise the reluctance of an appellate court to interfere with acquittal than to curtail the power of the court to review the evidence and to come to its own conclusion.
(4) An appellate court, however, must bear in mind that in case of acquittal, there is double presumption in favour of the accused. Firstly, the presumption of innocence is available to him under the fundamental principle of criminal jurisprudence that every person shall be presumed to be innocent unless he is proved guilty by a competent court of law. Secondly, the accused having secured his acquittal, the presumption of his innocence is further reinforced, reaffirmed and strengthened by the trial court.
(5) If two reasonable conclusions are possible on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court should not disturb the finding of acquittal recorded by the trial court.”

In C. Antony v. K.G. Raghavan Nair [(2003) 1 SCC 1], Supreme Court held :-

“6. This Court in a number of cases has held that though the appellate court has full power to review the evidence upon which the order of acquittal is founded, still while exercising such an appellate power in a case of acquittal, the appellate court, should not only consider every matter on record having a bearing on the question of fact and the reasons given by the courts below in support of its order of acquittal, it must express its reasons in the judgment which led it to hold that the acquittal is not justified. In those line of cases this Court has also held that the appellate court must also bear in mind the fact that the trial court had the benefit of seeing the witnesses in the witness box and the presumption of innocence is not weakened by the order of acquittal, and in such cases if two reasonable conclusions can be reached on the basis of the evidence on record, the appellate court should not disturb the finding of the trial court. (See Bhim Singh Rup Singh v. State of Maharashtra1 and Dharamdeo Singh v. State of Bihar.)”

40- The State has not been able to make out a case of exception to the above settled principles. It was for the State to show that the High Court has completely fallen in error of law or that judgment in relation to these accused was palpably erroneous, perverse or untenable. None of these parameters are satisfied in the appeal preferred by the State against the acquittal of three accused.”


Ref: Ravi Kapur v. State of Rajasthan, (2012) 9 SCC 284

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