Mumbai: Centre mulling greater punishment for drunk driving, High Court told

The Centre is considering a proposal to enhance punishment for drunk driving by amending IPC sections 304 A (causing death by negligence) and 279 (rash and negligent driving), the Bombay High Court was informed on Tuesday.

A draft bill pertaining to amendment to Indian Penal Code sections was being 'scrutinised and finalised', Centre's counsel Parag Vyas told the bench of Justices Abhay Oka and Gautam Patel.

The court was hearing a public interest litigation filed by the senior journalist Nikhil Wagle seeking compensation from Bollywood superstar Salman Khan for the victims of the 2002 hit-and-run case. Khan was acquitted by another High Court judge in the case last week.

The lawyer said a draft proposal seeking to increase the compensation for accident victims under the Motor Vehicles (MV) Act had been sent to the states 22 of which had given their comments. Comments from the remaining states were awaited.

Once this process was complete, the government would take a final call on amending the Motor Vehicles Act, Vyas said.

The High Court noted that government had taken some concrete steps, and adjourned the matter to February 21. Although Salman has already deposited the compensation to be paid to the families of victims as directed by the High Court, the petition is still being heard as the court expanded its scope to include enhancement of punishment in accident cases.

The court had earlier suggested that the Centre consider amending the IPC and the MV Act so as to make drunk driving a more serious offence. Jaiprakash Agarwal, joint secretary in the Union Home Ministry, said in an affidavit earlier that the Law Commission had recommended modification of sections 304 A and 279 of IPC to make drunk driving a more serious offence. The process had already begun and it will come up before the Cabinet soon, he said.

The maximum punishment for the offence under the sections 304 A is two years or fine or both, and imprisonment for six months or fine or both under the section 279.

Khan's SUV had rammed a bakery in suburban Bandra on September 28, 2002, before running over a group of homeless people sleeping on the pavement outside, killing one person and injuring four. The actor was convicted on May 6 this year by the sessions court and sentenced to five years in jail, but the Bombay High Court acquitted him.

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