Hit and Run….. ?
By Maxwell Pereira

The Salman Khan incident in Mumbai has triggered off the debate on 'hit and run' cases like never before. Both in the written and in the visual media. There are the protagonists who want him nailed for causing death by driving a Land-cruiser over pavement dwellers, while the voice of his supporters alleging media hyped witch hunt is also making itself heard.

The police have taken a beating for seemingly colluding and favouring the actor by granting him police bail for a 'ridiculously' meagre sum of Rs.950. (Statedly, this is the maximum amount for which granting bail is permitted to the Mumbai Police). Even so, they've been accused of not acting in a fair and correct manner. Following a PIL by a journalist in the Mumbai High Court, the case has further taken a queer turn, with the police later changing the section of offence under the IPC from 304-A(causing death due to rash and negligent driving - a bailable offence) to 304 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder - a non-bailable one). And as per media reports, the High Court has gone and directed the actor to pay as compensation a whoppy sum of Rs.19 lakhs! In the ensuing debate, legal luminaries have questioned the very legality of the developments, again alleging the writ of emotions and sentiment over the letter or the spirit of the law on the subject.

A colleague of mine speaking during the 'Big Fight' debate on a TV channel drew attention to the fact that the Indian Penal Code was a 1861 creation of the British who were the rulers then and were perhaps the only ones with means to own a vehicle that could commit an accident. And hence, protecting their own interests, ensured that causing injury or death due to accident remains not too serious an offence, bailable, and that too with a nominal punishment.

Without getting into the complexities of legal wrangles, I would like to add here a few of the less known facts about 'hit and run' cases. What is it that makes a person after committing an accident, to flee the scene? There could be two reasons. One - to escape detection; and two - to save oneself from possible wrath of the public. Fear of being lynched, maybe. The ethics of the matter in leaving the scene of accident without coming to the aid of the injured apart, in the latter case one would expect the bonafide driver go to the nearest police station or present himself before the first policeman he comes by.

It remains a fact that the number of deaths on the road in a city like Delhi are four times the number of homicides and yet the seriousness with which fatality on the road is treated in law or the public perception and the media, is nowhere near that with which homicide is treated or sensationalised. Unless of course it happens to be a case like the one of Sanjeev Nanda's BMW or a Salman Khan's Land-cruiser. So the question - is celebrity status of the driver or the victim the determining factor regarding the importance or the heinous nature of a death on the road?

Up to 15/09 Non-injury simple fatal Total injured killed Pedestrians invoved
1079 421 1512 1142 427 1007

In Delhi, upto the middle of September 2002 out of 1158 fatal road accidents 538 were 'hit and run' cases. In 117 of these the identity of the involved vehicle was known while in the rest 421 fatal 'hit and run' accidents 427 people died. In an analysis conducted, it is observed that - (i) 'hit and run' cases constitute 24.3% of total accidents; (ii) in 'hit and run' cases ending in fatalities the number rises to 36.3% of the total fatal accidents; (iii) in 65% of fatal cases of 'hit and run' the victim is a pedestrian; and (iv) a majority of 'hit and run' cases occurred during night (considering also that 26.5% of cases where the time is 'not known' - which can safely be concluded to have occurred at night only). There is a 4% increase noticed in 'hit and run' fatal accidents in 2002 when compared to the previous year, even as there is decline of 6% in the total number of fatal accidents itself.

It has been suggested that lack of stringency in law specifically targeting the 'hit and run' nature in an accident is also a major motivating factor that triggers the driver to flee the scene. That there is no difference between the punishment prescribed for the accident/ offence committed, whether the driver remains at the spot or runs away after the accident. There is also the aspect of the deterioration in the moral fibre of the general milieu or society at large and an ever-increasing decline in the respect for the Rule of Law. This again is spurred on by the feeling that by fleeing the chances of the law catching up are slim. And the perpetrator takes full advantage of the public apathy and the tendency in all to look the other way even when they are eye-witnesses to an accident. Reasons for doing so may be many, but this lack of civic responsibility and citizen's duty which ultimately promotes deviant behaviour in the driver to 'hit and run' needs to be addressed, if at we expect some positive improvement in the state of affairs.


850 words: dated 24.08.2004.
Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com


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