The term ‘negligence’ under section 304(A) does not mean ‘sheer carelessness’ but shall result in ‘criminal act negligence’: Andhra Pradesh High Court

The Andhra Pradesh high court in the Case of SN Hussain v. State of Andhra Pradesh interpreted section 304(A) of IPC, regarding causing death by negligence through the learned bench lead by D Palekar and P J Reddy. The term ‘negligence’ as used in this section does not mean sheer carelessness. The rashness or negligence must be of such form so as to be called a criminal act of negligence or rashness. In both circumstances the death caused does not constitute a culpable homicide but it is the degree of negligence that really decides whether a specific act would as described under this section amounts to a rash and negligent act.

Facts of the case: – According to the bus driver the gates of the railway crossing were open at the time he reached the level crossing and as he passed through the gate suddenly a good train appeared colliding right with the bus. Due to this, the bus was thrown off causing 4 deaths and other several injuries to 43 passengers on board.

The bus driver charged under sections 304A, 338, and 337 of IPC defended himself saying that he was neither rash nor negligent and the accident was unavoidable. According to him he or any prudent man could not have figured out that it was time for the goods train to pass by. The Trial magistrate accepted the defense but the high court was pleased to hold that the driver was both rash as well as negligent.

Judgment: -Before coming to a conclusion and giving a judgment the court interpreted the word rash and criminal negligence. Rashness consists in hazarding a dangerous or wanton act with the knowledge that it is so, and that it may cause injury. The criminality in such a case lies in the running risk of doing such an act with recklessness or indifference as to the consequences. Whereas criminal negligence on the other hand is the gross and culpable neglect or failure to exercise that reasonable and proper care and precaution to guard against injury either of the public generally or to an individual in particular, which, having regard to all circumstances out of which the charge has arisen it was the imperative duty of the accused person to have adopted.

The court was of the opinion that no prudent man could have guessed that the train was scheduled to pass by at that time. Therefore, the bus driver cannot be held guilty of criminal negligence because he did not stop when the road signal wanted him to stop rather it was a clear case of an unavoidable accident because of the negligence of the gateman in keeping the gate open and inviting vehicles to pass. Hence the driver was acquitted of all charges against him.

If a railway crossing is unchecked or rather unmanned, it might be correct to ensure that the driver of the vehicle should halt the vehicle, check in both directions, and then drive his vehicle only after ensuring himself that there was no risk of approaching the railway track. But if a gateman guards a railway crossing and the gateman opens the gate allowing the vehicles to proceed, it would be unusual to ask any rational and vigilant driver to halt his vehicle and watch out for any incoming train.

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