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States to Compensate Victims of Road Mishaps on Convict’s Failure to Pay: Supreme Court

Hearing an appeal against the judgment of the High Court of Himachal Pradesh, the Supreme Court postulated and held that it shall be within the authority of the Courts to direct states for granting compensation to the victims of road accidents as well as their relatives, if the convicts or the liable party in the matter is not capable of coming up with the compensation amount on its own. The appeal was filed by the Himachal Pradesh state government

A bench of Justice T.S. Thakur and Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel opined that in a situation where the accused/convict is not in a position to pay the requisite or adequate compensation to the victim of a road accident or victim’s heirs, the Court is obliged to grant compensation to the victim under Section 357A of the Criminal Procedure Code. Section 357A obliges the state to provide compensation available under the Victim Compensation Scheme framed under the section.

Earlier, the High Court of Himachal Pradesh had upheld the conviction of one Ram Pal by taking recourse to the appropriate legal provisions criminalizing “rash” driving. Ram Pal was accused of “rashly” driving a tanker that resulted in the death of 2 people including a 20 year old girl, on 20th August, 2009, close to Manali. But in a surprise move, the High Court annulled the jail term, by substituting with a fine of Rs. 40,000 and made it crystal clear that in case the driver is unable to pay the compensation, the sentence of imprisonment will be revived and enforced.

However, the Supreme Court declined to re-examine/re-appreciate the evidence in the matter as the matter was brought under the provisions for Special Leave Petition under Art. 136 of the Constitution, which does not oblige the Court to re-appreciate the evidence, in a marked “absence of perversity or patent legal error”. The Court noted that it cannot re-examine and re-analyse the evidence merely to search for a different perspective to the case at hand. Consequently, instead of re-opening the correctness of the earlier judgment from which the SLP was preferred, the Court considered the adequacy of the sentence awarded to the convict.

Observing that the sentence imposed by the Himachal Pradesh High Court is inadequate, as a fine of a mere Rs. 40,000 is not proportionate given the nature and seriousness of the offence and the gravity of the resultant injury. The Court also noted that a sum of Rs. 3.60 lakh has been awarded to the deceased’s heir as part of their insurance settlements.

Consequently, the top court modified the order of the High Court and considerably enhanced the amount of compensation awarded to the victim’s heirs to Rs. 1 lakh, to be paid by the convict. Further, the bench directed the state government of Himachal Pradesh to pay an interim compensation of Rs. 3 lakh.

by Siddhartha Singh.