This article is written by Mayank Labh, a student of NALSAR, Hyderabad.
In India, more than thousand cases every year are of hit and run. As evident from their words, hit and run cases are typically ‘accidents’ caused by careless driving. The intention is not directly to kill, or to commit any act which would lead to the death of a human being, but to drive a motor vehicle on a road.
Under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 a specific provision was inserted to deal with this issue through Section 304A in which death is caused by negligence and prescribes a punishment which may extend to two years and with fine as well.
Salman Khan case, however, is interesting in that a hit-and-run case led to charges for culpable homicide (the equivalent of manslaughter), which prescribes a much more serious punishment.
Does the court have the power to make the prosecution charges more severe?
Under which circumstances can motor vehicle accidents be treated as culpable homicide cases? Does the Salman Khan case provide a test for that?
Are there circumstances under which hit-and-run case be treated as a murder (instead of merely culpable homicide)?
One such case is of Hit and Run case of Salman Khan in which he allegedly killed one person and injured four pavement dwellers. Initially he was charged under Section 279 of I.P.C., 304A but later he was also charged under Section 304 Part II of IPC. Even though the bare act has not divided the Section 304 into two parts but it has been the legal practice to divide it into two. The basic difference between the two is that the first part requires intention while other does not.
The moot question is whether the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder can be applied to negligent motor-vehicle “accidents”.
It is well settled by the Indian court that the charge of culpable homicide can be applied. A Supreme Court Bench comprising Justices R M Lodha and Jagdish Singh Khehar ruled that “a person responsible for a reckless or rash or negligent act that causes death which he had knowledge as a reasonable man that such act was dangerous enough to lead to some untoward thing and the death was likely to be caused, may be attributed with the knowledge of the consequence and may be fastened with culpability of homicide not amounting to murder and punishable under Section 304 Part II IPC”.
So, in simple terms, if you are driving the car in a negligent way and you are aware that it may cause death to someone then you can be charged under culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
 Rash driving or riding on a public way.—Whoever drives any vehicle, or rides, on any public way in a manner so rash or negligent as to endanger human life, or to be likely to cause hurt or injury to any other person, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to six months, or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees, or with both.
 Whoever commits culpable homicide not amounting to murder shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to ten years, or with fine, or with both, if the act is done with the knowledge that it is likely to cause death ,but without any intention to cause death, or to cause such bodily injury as is likely to cause death.(Part ( is quite the same with the intention part lacking.)