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The Supreme Court has held that the Motor Vehicles Act and the Indian Penal Code operate in their independent spheres and a person can be prosecuted under both the statutes for an offence relating to road and traffic safety.
A Bench of Justices Indu Malhotra and Sanjiv Khanna set aside a judgment of the Gauhati High Court wherein the High Court had held that an accused prosecuted under the MV Act for offences like speeding and rash driving cannot be booked under the IPC.
“We thus hold that a prosecution, if otherwise maintainable, would lie both under the IPC and the MV Act, since both the statutes operate with full vigour, in their own independent spheres. Even assuming that some of the provisions of the MV Act and IPC are overlapping, it cannot be said that the offences under both the statutes are incompatible.”
The judgment was rendered in criminal appeals filed by the States of Arunachal Pradesh and Tripura.
The primary question for consideration before the Court was whether the Gauhati High Court was justified in issuing a directive that offenders of motor vehicle accidents must be tried only under the MV Act and not the IPC.
Answering the same, the Supreme Court held that while the MV Act has been consistently held to be a complete code in itself, it still does not bar prosecution for offences relating to motor vehicles under any other statute.
“In our considered view the position of law is well settled. This Court has consistently held that the M.V. Act,1988 is a complete code in itself in so far as motor vehicles are concerned. However, there is no bar under the M.V. Act or otherwise, to try and prosecute offences under the IPC for an offence relating to motor vehicle accidents.”
On the compatibility of the two statutes
On why there is no conflict between the two statutes in question, the Court has said that the ingredients of an offence under the MV Act are different from those made out under the IPC. Therefore, both these statutes operate in entirely different spheres. Thus, an accused can be prosecuted under both for independent offences and the principle of primacy of a special law over a general law would not be applicable in such cases.
The Court further pointed out that the MV Act is silent on certain offences such as death, hurt, or grievous hurt caused due to negligence or rash driving and provides no separate punishment for these offences. The IPC, on the other hand, deals specifically and separately with these offences prescribing different punishments for these. Offences under Chapter XIII of the MV Act are compoundable, while offences relating to bodily injuries under the IPC are not compoundable. Citing these factors, the Court stressed that the provisions of the MV Act do not intend to supersede the IPC. In this regard, the Court said,
“The legislative intent of the MV Act, and in particular Chapter XIII of the MV Act, was not to override or supersede the provisions of the IPC in so far as convictions of offenders in motor vehicle accidents are concerned. Offences under Chapter XIII of the MV Act, cannot abrogate the applicability of the provisions under Sections 297, 304, 304A, 337 and 338 of the IPC.”
On proportionality between crime and punishment
“The principle of proportionality between the crime and punishment has to be borne in mind. The principle of just punishment is the bedrock of sentencing in respect of a criminal offence”
The Court made this observation while highlighting the difference between the punishment imposed for first-time offenders under both the statutes. While the maximum punishment for first-time offenders under Chapter XIII of the MV Act is six months, punishment under the IPC may go up to ten years. The punishment must, however, be commensurate to the degree of the offence committed and the same ought to have a deterrent effect.
The punishment imposed under the IPC is stricter and more proportionate to the offences relating to motor vehicle accidents in comparison to the MV Act. This becomes another reason for the simultaneous application of the two statutes, the judgment states.
Therefore, it set aside the judgment of Gauhati High Court.