Facts of the Case
On 20th February 2007 around 60 children, along with a dozen teachers went on a picnic for an entire day through the picturesque places around Kothamangalam town. As dusk was setting in, the group decided to wind up their picnic with a short boat ride through the bewitching Periyar river near Thattekkadu.
At 6:05 pm, the Accused who was the owner as well as the driver of a boat named “Sivaranjini”, having a passenger capacity of 6 persons, carried 61 persons including 53 students, 7 teachers and 1 non-teaching staff of Elavoor St.Antony’s U.P. School. Due to the overload, the boat was turned to return, but water started seeping through a hole at its rear end and the boat capsized and sank in the river causing the death of 18 persons including 15 children.
Adv. C.P.Udayabhanu, learned counsel for the Appellant, contended that nothing was brought out in evidence that could attribute knowledge to the Accused that the act done by him would cause the death of the children. He further argued that the accident occurred due to the action of the passengers and since the act of the Accused was not the direct cause of the accident, a conviction under Section 304A of the IPC was not warranted in the instant case.
Learned Counsel for the Prosecution contended that the absence of life-saving equipment coupled with the unscientific modification, without displaying the capacity of the boat and the absence of permit or fitness certificate to ply the boat on the water, and the owner of the boat himself being the driver, clearly evinced the factum of knowledge, under Section 304 IPC and sought for affirming the conviction of the accused.
The Court analysed the inspection certificate and observed that the reasons for capsize of the boat were that students came towards one side of the boat in their attempt to catch a glimpse of rare bird nests, due to which the boat tilted, and suddenly a teacher, jumped out of the boat causing it to overturn.
The Court further analysed Sec 304 IPC. Culpable homicide is of two types:
- Culpable homicide not amounting to murder
In this case, the Prosecution had not alleged that the act committed by the Accused was done with any intention to cause death or cause bodily injury as is likely to cause death. Thus, even according to the Prosecution, the offence alleged against the Accused could come only under Part II of Section 304 IPC.
The Court observed the case of Mahadev Prasad Kaushik v. State of Uttar Pradesh and Another [(2008) 14 SCC 479], which held that “mere knowledge on the part of a person in driving a vehicle that his act is likely to cause injury or death is not sufficient to make out the offence under Section 304 Part II of the IPC.”
The Court observed that Section 304A IPC applies in cases where death is caused by an act that is done rashly or negligently and such an act does not amount to culpable homicide.
The Court further observed the case of Prabhakaran v. State of Kerala [2007 (3) KLT 400 (SC)], which held that “criminal negligence is the gross and culpable neglect or failure to exercise that reasonable and proper care and precaution.”
The Court observed in the case of State Tr. P.S Lodhi Colony, New Delhi v. Sanjeev Nanda, [(2012) 8 SCC 450, that “Navigating a boat through the waters carries an inherent risk, the degree of which is reduced by using appropriate life-saving equipment, including life jackets. This responsibility squarely falls upon the owner of the boat as well as its driver.”
The Court observed that in spite of knowing the deficiencies of the boat, the Accused permitted 61 persons to board the boat and navigated it through the waters of Periyar river which bespeaks of a rash and negligent act. This act of navigation, was in gross disregard of the consequences without sufficient precautions to guard against injury, amounting to gross negligence and rashness warranting a finding of guilt under section 304A IPC.
Thus, the Court held that the Accused was found guilty for the offence under Section 304A IPC and he was sentenced to undergo rigorous imprisonment for 2 years and to pay a fine of Rs.1,50,000/- under Section 357 Cr. P.C.
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