That our roads are getting deadlier by the day isn’t really breaking news. But no one thinks this fact will ever come home to roost. Well, in my case, it did – literally!
At 9:10pm on the 3rd of July, a silver Mercedes S-Class pulled up in front of my residence in Delhi. Three men got out, one of whom appeared drunk. An argument ensued – presumably about who would take the wheel – and the man who could barely stand made his way into the driver’s seat. At 9:18pm, the car sped away again. 45 seconds later, it collided at great speed with my own car, standing on the side of the road – narrowly missing a guard who was sitting right alongside. The entire incident was caught on CCTV, and the car’s number was noted before it sped away with no concern whatsoever for the damage left in its wake.
A call to 100 yielded a reassuringly quick response. After the initial complaint was lodged, an investigative officer came to gather additional details. Admittedly, police action on the night of the incident was swifter than expected. The police immediately paid a visit to the registered address of the vehicle – only to find no sign of the car or its owner. As it turned out, the registered owner had – a month prior – sold the vehicle through his dealer. This dealer did a deal with another dealer – who issued a delivery receipt – whose partner sold the car to a lawyer (a former President of the Patiala House BAR Association). If all this sounds confusing that’s because it is – or perhaps it’s just designed to be!
Despite great resistance, this web was finally disentangled, and the driver of the S-Class arrived at the police station – accompanied by two representatives of the lawyer (one of whom was a family member). It seems the chauffeur (unbeknownst to his employer) was out for a night on the town, and admitted to drinking and driving. The lawyer was travelling, and the car had since been sent on a pre-planned road trip – now, you don’t see too many accident-damaged Mercs on the highway but that was their story. A written statement was signed stating that the car would return the next day and the owner would be present as well. Well, as we know all too well, tomorrow never comes.
A friend of the lawyer spoke with my brother-in-law, also a lawyer, and asked what the big deal was since no one was dead (thankfully). He said, at best, it would be a case under section 279 of the Indian Penal Code, which covers rash or negligent driving. That attitude appears to be pervasive. In fact, on the very night of the incident, a police officer tried to warn me off filing an FIR by saying that if I did my car would be stuck in impound for three years while the case played out.
Fast forward a couple of days – I’m sitting across the table from a police officer I’ve come to for consultation (off the record). What are my options, I ask? The response leaves me dumbfounded. Allow me to paraphrase: The British formulated these laws at a time when they were the only ones who had cars, so the system is designed to favour the perpetrator. The maximum punishment, under section 279, is 6 months in prison (which is handed out very sparingly) or a fine of ₹1,000. With a pending punishment of just 1,000 Rupees, it’s no wonder that section 279 was being dangled as a rather unappetising carrot in this case.
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill 2017 envisions far harsher punishment. It was passed by the Lok Sabha last year, and is currently pending in the Rajya Sabha. But, even then, the fine for rash driving would be up to just ₹5,000. The system, it appears, is designed in such a way that the victim is persecuted while the perpetrator is shielded by a judicial process that favours those who can pull the right strings. So, do you blame the system or those who work it?
We appear to have gone from bowing to a foreign ruler to being held mercy by those in positions of power and influence in our country who consider themselves above the law. Perhaps that’s why we can’t seem to do anything about the one-and-a-half lakh fatalities that take place on our roads every year.
This is outside my house. The car under the cover is mine. The SClass that took off was found. Driver admitted 2being drunk. Owner is a lawyer & former President of the Patiala House Bar Association. Law is weak & those who wield it are powerful! Read more https://t.co/66AaleMj7Z pic.twitter.com/14BsNGUkyi
— Dhruv Behl (@Dhruv_Behl) August 2, 2018