The Bombay High Court today asked the Union Government to consider amending section 279 of the Indian Penal Code (rash and negligent driving) and enhance the existing punishment (two years' jail term) for drunk driving.
The division bench of Abhay Oka and A S Chandurkar were hearing a public interest litigation filed by journalist Nikhil Wagle, seeking compensation from Bollywood superstar Salman Khan for the victims of the 2002 hit-and-run case involving the actor.
The High Court suggested that IPC sections 304 A (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 279 should be amended to include a specific offence of drunk driving.
The Central government's lawyer said it was considering amendment of section 304 A. As to section 279, it had sought the views of the state governments. The judges said that both the sections should be amended.
Jaiprakash Agarwal, Joint Secretary (Home), Union Government, stated in his affidavit that the Law Commission had recommended modification of sections 304 A and 279 to include drunk driving as a serious offence. The process had already begun and it will come up before the cabinet.
The Centre had sought the views of the state governments and union territories on amending section 279, however, Maharashtra had not responded so far, the affidavit said. The court then asked the state government to respond to the Centre's proposal within two months.
Khan's vehicle, allegedly driven by him, rammed into a bakery at suburban Bandra on September 28, 2002, killing one person and injuring four. A sessions court is currently trying the actor in the case.
At an earlier hearing on this PIL in October 2002, the then attorney general Goolam Vahanvati had assured the court that he will personally ensure that constructive measures were taken by the government to prevent drunk driving.
The High Court had then asked the government to file an affidavit stating so, but no affidavit has been filed so far. Justice Oka had on the last occasion asked the government why it had not filed the affidavit.
In 2002, the HC had directed the actor to pay interim compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased, Rs 3 lakh to those injured seriously and Rs 1.5 lakh to others.
The actor deposited the money with the court. The son of the deceased Firoz Noorula stated before the court today that his mother was no more and the compensation may be given to him or to his grandmother.
However, the High Court said it could not decide this issue; the heirs should move a competent civil court.