Section 304A, IPC deals with homicide by rash and negligent act. It provides punishment for those cases which under English law are termed manslaughter by negligence. The original Penal Code had no provision for punishment in those cases where a person causes death of another by negligence. That is to say, liability for causing death was limited only to those cases of murder and culpable homicide not amounting to murder. To fill in the gap, section 304A was inserted in the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 27 of 1870 to cover those cases wherein a person causes death of another by such acts as are rash or negligent but there is no intention to cause death or no knowledge that the act will cause death.
Section 304-A of The Indian Penal Code Causing death by negligence.
Whoever causes the death of any person by doing any rash or negligent act not amounting to culpable homicide shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both.
Essential Ingredients – To bring a case of homicide under section 304A, IPC the following conditions must exist, viz.,
- There must be death of the person in question;
- The accused must have caused such death; and
- That such act of accused was rash or negligent and that it did not amount to culpable homicide.
This section applies where there is direct nexus between the death of a person and the rash or negligent act. The act must be causa causans, it is not enough that it may have been the causa sine qua non.
Causa causans: The primary cause or the originator of an action.
Causa Sine Qua Non: An intervening cause of loss which, though not direct, may nonetheless contribute to the loss.
Criminal negligence is the gross and culpable neglect or failure to exercise that reasonable and proper care and precaution to guard against injury either to the public generally or to a particular individual. Which having regard to all the circumstances out of which the charges have arisen, it was the imperative duty of the accused person to have adopted (Bala Chandra v. State of Maharashtra, AIR 1968 SC 1319).
A rash act is primarily an overhasty act and is opposed to a deliberate act; even if it is partly deliberate, it is done without due thought and action. An illegal “omission” if negligent, may come under this section. Negligence, on the other hand, is a breach of duty imposed by law.
The doctrine of contributory negligence does not apply to the criminal liability.
A great care should be taken before imputing criminal negligence to a professional man acting in the course of his profession. A doctor is not criminally responsible for a patient’s death unless his negligence shows such regard for life and safety as to amount to a crime against the State.
Where the accused who was a Homeopath, administered to the patient suffering from guinea worm, 24 drops of mother tincture Stramonium and a leaf of Dhatura without studying its effect and the patient died of poisoning. It was held that the accused was guilty under Section 304A. (Juggan Khan vs State of Madhya Pradesh, AIR 1965 SC 831)
Rash and Negligent Driving
The mere fact that a fatal motor run-over accident took place would not be itself, be enough to make the driver liable under Section 304A. In order to impose criminal liability on the accused, it must be found as a fact that a collision was entirely or at least mainly due to rashness or negligence on the part of the driver. It is not sufficient if it is only found that the accused was driving the vehicle at a fast speed. (State of Rajasthan vs Hari Singh, AIR 1969 Raj 86)
In Jagdish Chander vs State (1974) 1 SCR 204, the appellant suddenly turned his auto-scooter rickshaw to the right without paying proper heed to the truck coming from the opposite and stuck it. He then lost control of his scooter-rickshaw and crashed into a tree under which a woman was standing with her baby in her arms. As a result, she received simple injuries and the child received fatal injuries. The trial court and the High Court found the appellant guilty under section 304A. In appeal, the Supreme Court held that as the appellant suddenly turned to the right without paying proper heed to the truck coming from the opposite direction, in doing so he was rash and negligent.
Author – Mayank Shekhar
- K.D. Gaur, Textbook on Indian Penal Code, Fifth Edition 2014
- Ratanlal and Dhirajlal, Indian Penal Code, Thirty-Fifth Edition
- SCC Online