Shilpa Mittal, sister of Siddharth Sharma, is working hard to ensure that the controversial case sets a precedence and keeps juvenile drivers off the road.
Four days ago, Shilpa Mittal threw a birthday party for her brother, Siddharth Sharma. Unfortunately, her brother, who would have turned 33 years old, was not a part of the celebrations.
Just eight weeks ago, Siddharth lost his life in an accident in the Civil Lines area of Delhi.
The accident captured the attention of the nation and was dubbed the ‘Mercedes hit-and-run’ case in the media. The 17-year-old son of a Delhi businessman is believed to have been driving the car that hit Siddharth. CCTV footage confirms that the car was speeding when it mowed Siddharth down as he tried to cross the road. Police have apprehended the accused and, considering the grave nature of the crime, the court will be trying him as an adult and not a juvenile.
This is the first time that an individual is being tried under the amended Juvenile Act that was passed after the Nirbhaya rape case.
The Rajya Sabha passed the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill in December 2015. The Act allows juveniles between the ages of 16 and 18 to be tried as adults for heinous offences. While several activists have criticized the move as being in violation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the amendment was passed keeping in mind the perceived leniency shown to the underage convict in the Nirbhaya gang rape case of December 2012.
Although Shilpa and her family are hoping for a fair and speedy trial, there are still many hurdles in their path to justice.
While the Juvenile Justice Board has already allowed the accused to be tried as an adult, the prosecution needs to prove to the court yet again why the accused must be tried so. It remains to be seen whether the court will uphold the Board’s verdict.
Child rights activists are also expressing concern about the use of the new Juvenile Justice Law in this manner.
“I have lost my brother due to the irresponsible actions, ignorance of law and fun ride of a minor. I am fighting for justice, so others don’t have to go through the same ordeal as our family. This case must set an example for people who think they can get away with murder if they have deep pockets. It’s to make sure that a precedence is set for the future and people have some regard and fear of law” says Shilpa.
Shilpa and her family have been the front-runners in this battle since the incident snatched away the most loved member of their family. Right from procuring the CCTV footage that has been instrumental in booking the accused, to gathering public support through various online and offline campaigns, the family has left no stone unturned in ensuring that Siddharth’s case is heard.
They hope that the punishment meted out to the accused will be severe and will act as a deterrent to other minors and parents.
Seasoned lawyers fighting the case on behalf of Siddharth’s family are also working overtime to ensure that the family gets justice. LawRato.com, a legal advice platform is also helping Shilpa conduct legal research to make the prosecution’s case stronger.
The layers of the opposition, as well as many activists, argue that underage driving is a minor offence and does not fall under the ‘rarest of rare’ cases as mentioned in the Juvenile Justice Amendment Bill. Most parents too, fail to see this as a serious offence and hand over the keys of their vehicles to their underage children without a second thought.
But the implications of these actions are not the same as a minor seeing an adult film or smoking a cigarette. A vehicle on the road, in the hands of an inexperienced driver is a threat to the safety and lives of both, pedestrians and drivers. Driving is not only about the ability to operate a machine but also about the maturity and judgment such an action requires. After all, there is a reason why the minimum age for holding a drivers’ licence is 18.
The Minister of State for Road Transport and Highways, Pon Radhakrishnan told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply that underage drivers, below the age of 18, were responsible for 0.60 lakh accidents from 2012 to 2014.
Untrained minors are not only involved in rash driving, but are often responsible for obstructive parking as well, causing problems for both traffic cops as well as the general public. The law does not permit the police to issue challans to underage drivers directly, and contacting their parents is a complicated process.
“Four to five teenagers or parents send queries to our motor accident lawyers every day. In most cases, the vehicle driven by the minor has either met with an accident or has been caught by the traffic police. The realisation that underage driving can be dangerous only seems to dawn on the family once trouble comes knocking. We hope this case sets a precendence. If a strict punishment is awarded in this case, it will become a case law precedence that will help punish those accused in similar cases in the future.” says Rohan Mahajan, Founder of LawRato.
Under the Motor Vehicle Act, any driver, below the age of 18, if caught driving can be fined Rs. 500 along with a possible jail term of three months. The owner of the vehicle, or parents and guardians, are challaned Rs. 1,000.
“A small penalty like this is not a deterrent, neither for minors, nor for any driver on the road. The legislature needs to make the law strong so that citizens realise the serious consequences of rash and negligent driving, and so that parents refuse to allow underage kids to drive,” says Advocate Arjun Vinod Bobde, a renowned Advocate in the Supreme Court of India.
It is time we asked ourselves why the responsibility of curbing underage driving falls squarely on the shoulders of the police. Parents should be the first ones to take preventive measures. This should be followed by awareness campaigns at the school level. Police should only intervene at a later stage.
In the wake of this accident, a group of State Transport Ministers pushed for the ratification of a fine of Rs. 20,000 or a three year term of imprisonment or both for the owner of a vehicle being used by a juvenile driver.
They also reached the consensus that a juvenile driver involved in a accident resulting in death should be a non-bailable offence and the offending juvenile must not be allowed a driving licence for a geared-vehicle till he turns 21. These are some of the amendments that the Road Transport Ministry will propose to the present Motor Vehicles Act.
Let’s hope that this incidence and the soon-to-be-changed laws act as a deterrent and keep minors from getting behind the wheel in the future.