This article is written by Ashwin Datha.
If you regularly drive a motor vehicle then you probably would have encountered a situation where a police officer has stopped a person alleging violation of traffic law such as not wearing a helmet, triple riding, parking in a no-parking zone, jumping traffic signals, not wearing seat belt, using mobile phone while driving or driving at excessive speeds etc. and then the police officer proceeds to generate a ‘challan’ or a ‘receipt’ and demands the person to immediately pay the prescribed amount of money on the spot.
However, there are situations where such a person actually did not commit the offence or he did not have the required amount of money to pay it immediately. This Article deals with law related to the powers of a police officer to collect money in respect to violation of certain offences that are compoundable under section 200 of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and whether it is mandatory to pay for its violation on the spot.
Compounding of an offence under The Motor Vehicles Act
The violation of duties imposed upon a driver under the provisions of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 or the regulations framed under the act such as The Motor Vehicles (Driving) Regulations, 2017 attracts penal consequences in the form of a fine or imprisonment, some of these offences are compoundable in nature.
Primarily it is the function of the judiciary to punish a person for violation of any law. When a police officer demands a person to pay money on the spot outside the court of law, he is basically ‘Compounding’ the offence for which he is empowered to do so by a state government’s notification under section 200 of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The word ‘compounding’ has not been defined anywhere in the Act.
The Calcutta High court defined the compounding of an offence in Murray vs The Queen Empress, 1893.
‘The compounding of an offence signifies that the person against whom the offence has been committed has received some gratification, not necessarily of a pecuniary character, to act as an inducement for his desiring to abstain from a prosecution’
For general understanding ‘Compounding’ of an offence is a voluntary act of a person making an agreement with another person to not prosecute him for an alleged offence in exchange for money.
It is pertinent to know that in respect to those offences that are compoundable under section 200, the police officer has the power to only collect such amount prescribed by the state government in its notification and the same must be deposited with the state government. It is important to know that the act of compounding under The Motor Vehicles Act must be done with the consent of the person who is the accused.
The Supreme Court while dealing with Section 200 of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 in the case of P. Ratnakar Rao & Ors vs Government of Andhra Pradesh & Ors, 1996 held that,
“It is not mandatory that the authorised officer would always compound the offence. It is conditional upon the willingness of the accused to have the offences compounded. It may also be done before the institution of the prosecution case. In the event of the petitioner’s willing to have the offence compounded, the authorised officer gets jurisdiction and authority to compound the offence and call upon the accused to pay the same. On compliance thereof, the proceedings, if already instituted, would be closed or no further proceedings shall be initiated. It is a matter of volition or willingness on the part of the accused either to accept compounding of the offence or to face the prosecution in the appropriate court.”
It is thus evident that a police officer gets the power to collect the prescribed amount of money and compound the offence only after obtaining the consent of the accused but in reality, the Police officers often do not obtain the accused’s consent, tend to unlawfully force the driver of the motor vehicle to immediately pay the prescribed amount of money by arbitrarily generating a ‘challan’ or a ‘receipt ‘and due to lack of awareness among the accused persons and the public, there is a general misconception that it is the police officer who actually has the power to levy fine on the spot but as per the law it is not so.
Effect of refusal to Compound an offence under the Act
In the event, if a person who is accused of committing an offence that is compoundable under the Act refuses to pay the money on the spot, then the police officer on behalf of the state may initiate a summary case against the accused before the court of law having jurisdiction. The summary case would be disposed in accordance with Section 208 of The Motor Vehicles Act, 1988. The accused person who did not have the prescribed amount of money for compounding the offence on the spot may after collecting the same compound it before a police officer or if a summary case is already initiated he may pay it before the court of law by pleading guilty to the alleged offence. In the event if believes he is innocent, he may plead his innocence, then the burden lies upon the state i.e. the traffic police to prove that the accused has actually committed the offence.
The benefit of going through the court process instead of compounding the offence is that the accused will be heard by the judge and he will be permitted to lead evidence in order to prove his innocence, thus ensuring that an innocent person is not made liable to pay fine arbitrarily. Additionally, such an innocent person may also be entitled to compensation under Section 250 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 if the case was initiated against him without a reasonable cause.
It is pertinent to know that there are certain offences that impose either a fine or imprisonment but is also compoundable under section 200 of the Act, some of such offences are – Section 179(2) – Disobedience of orders, obstruction and refusal of information, Section 180 – Allowing unauthorised persons to drive vehicles, Section 181 – Driving vehicles in contravention of section 3 or section 4 (without a valid license), Section 184 – Driving dangerously, Section 186 – Driving when mentally or physically unfit to drive, Section 189 –Racing and trials of speed, Section 192 – Using vehicle without registration, Section 196 – Driving uninsured vehicle etc.
These offences impose a penalty of either imprisonment or a fine as specified under their respective sections, if a person is guilty of such offences he may compound the offence before a police officer by paying the prescribed amount of money in order to avoid the risk of receiving a sentence of imprisonment by a competent court of law in the event of his conviction.
Remedy against forceful compounding of offences
There is a well-known maxim in Latin related to law viz. ‘Ubi jus, ibi remedium’. It means that where there is a legal right, there is a remedy for the violation of such a legal right. In cases related to those offences that are compoundable in nature if a police officer forcefully demands money to be paid on the spot in order to compound the offence or snatches away the key of the motor vehicle until the money is paid then in such cases a civil case can be filed against such illegal actions claiming for compensation in monetary terms against the individual police officer who forcefully compounded the offence or against the traffic police department or the state government by holding them vicariously liable for the illegal actions of individual police officers.
The provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 does not explicitly mandate that those offences that are compoundable under section 200 must be compounded on the spot itself. According to Section 200, of the Act and the Supreme Court’s judgement (supra) the offence may be compounded before the institution of the prosecution, it is not mandatory that it should be done immediately; it can be done even after initiation of the prosecution.
Thus, as per law a police officer certainly cannot compel, force or order any person accused of those offences that are compoundable under section 200 of the Act to immediately compound the offence by paying money on the spot, he can only request and collect the prescribed amount with consent.
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