Truck drivers in India among most vulnerable: Patna High Court while directing Rs 5 lakh compensation for truck driver's illegal detention

"The drivers of commercial vehicles, especially the Truck Drivers, in India occupy a very unique and vital place in the immense Transportation sector which serves as the backbone of the Indian Economy."
Truck drivers in India among most vulnerable: Patna High Court while directing Rs 5 lakh compensation for truck driver's illegal detention
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The Patna High Court, on Tuesday, voiced concerns over the plight of truck drivers in India, opining that they are among the most vulnerable sections of society, even though they are a vital part of the economy.

Drivers of commercial vehicles are uniquely tasked with the supply of nearly all goods required for daily sustenance across the whole nation but they have to face great adversities besides hostile attitude of police and State authorities, the Court said.

The observations were made while ordering the grant of Rs 5 lakh as compensation to a truck driver illegally detained by the police for over 35 days (Sumit Kumar v. State of Bihar and ors).

In the course of their order, the Bench of Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice S Kumar also made pertinent observations on the role of truck drivers in India in contradistinction with the treatment meted out to them by the police.

"The drivers of commercial vehicles, especially the Truck Drivers, in India occupy a very unique and vital place in the immense Transportation sector which serves as the backbone of the Indian Economy. The road transport sector contributes almost 85-90% of passenger traffic 60-65% of freight traffic. Drivers of commercial vehicles are uniquely tasked with the supply of nearly all goods required for daily sustenance across the whole nation. Their life is defined by great hardship and sacrifice. They are under constant pressure to complete long journeys in short durations; operate under conditions of extreme lack of sleep; lack proper sanitation along highways and roads; have improper access to food and water, and have to spend most of their time away from their families. Along with these gruelling adversities, they are at constant odds with the police and State authorities, while trying to protect themselves from the continuous threat of highway robberies."
Chief Justice Sanjay Karol, Justice Sanjay Kumar
Chief Justice Sanjay Karol, Justice Sanjay Kumar

In this case, a milk van driver, Jitendra Kumar (alias Sanjay Kumar) was detained along with his vehicle by the Bihar Police on April 29 this year. He remained in custody without an FIR being registered or his production before a magistrate for over a month. It was only when the High Court issued notice in the matter that an FIR was registered.

Though the police alleged that he had been arrested on suspicion of having fled the scene of an accident involving a pedestrian, the Court was not convinced. Inter alia, the police could not even trace the alleged accident victim nor produce any witnesses, prompting the Court to muse on how the police had come to know of the alleged accident in the first place.

The impoundment of Jitendra's vehicle was found to be without following the appropriate legal procedures. His rights as regards being made aware of the grounds of arrest, access to legal counsel etc. were also found to have been violated.

"... without any rhyme and reason, the vehicle and the driver were detained illegally", the Court eventually opined, expressing its dissatisfaction at the attempts of the police to explain their conduct in this case.

The Bench observed,

"The facts of the instant case indicate a grim state of affairs where the police officials have acted in contravention and violation of the procedure established by law. The vehicle and detenue were detained and kept in police custody for more than 35 days without either filing of FIR or following any other procedure of arrest prescribed in law, ensuring constitutional protections to all persons."

In this backdrop, the Court found that this is a case that is fit for the payment of hefty compensation by the State for illegal detention and, thereby, a violation of Jitendra Kumar's fundamental rights to life and liberty.

As such, the Court ordered the payment of Rs 5 lakh as compensation, within six weeks. This would be "independent of the right of the petitioner as also the detenue to claim other damages as private law remedy," the Court added.

Pertinently, the case also prompted the Bench to call for introducing measures to improve the conditions of truck drivers in Bihar, given their invaluable role in the economy and the widespread discrimination and constant hardships they face. To this end, the Court ordered:

  • The State of Bihar shall consider forming a body to represent the views of the truck drivers and provide them with a complaint redressal mechanism.

  • The State of Bihar shall make efforts towards improving the conditions of the truck drivers. They must consider issues about their healthcare, access to food, working hours, payment of wages, literacy and access to technology.

  • The State should engage the civil society in generally building goodwill of the entire police force amongst the residents of Bihar.

Moreover, the Bench also issued directions for the punishment of errant policemen in this case and for the sensitisation of the police force in general. The directions issued in this regard include the following;

  • Disciplinary proceedings initiated against the erring police officers are to be expedited and concluded within three months. An action taken report is to be filed in the Registry on or before April 30, 2021.

  • The Director-General of Police, Government of Bihar shall ensure initiation of criminal proceedings against the erring police officers.

  • The Director General of Police, Government of Bihar should take appropriate action for sensitizing the entire police force, especially, the constabulary in Bihar, with special focus on safeguarding the fundamental rights of citizens.

  • The Director General of Police, Government of Bihar shall ensure proper and effective functioning of a Complaint Redressal Mechanism, easily accessible to the general public, especially illiterate and the marginalized people of the State.

  • The Director General of Police, Government of Bihar shall get a report prepared, with respect to the number and the nature of the complaints filed against the police officers/officials, and take remedial measures to prevent repeated occurrences of such misconduct.

Advocate Sanchay Srivastava appeared for the petitioner while advocate Pawan Kumar represented the State.

[Read order]

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