Mumbai court rejects bail plea of accused in accident that killed tech CEO; alcohol consumption suspected

A city magistrate court has rejected the bail application of 23-year-old Sumer Merchant, who is accused of fatally striking Rajalakhsmi Vijay, a tech firm CEO, while she jogged along the Worli sea-face in the early morning of March 19. A detailed order has not yet been released. Rajalakshmi was the CEO of Altruist Technology Pvt Ltd.

Merchant, represented by Advocate Anjali Patil, filed a bail application arguing that he and a friend were driving a female colleague home and did not see the 57-year-old Vijay due to a blind spot and sharp turn. The plea also highlighted that Merchant’s breathalyzer test, conducted upon being taken into custody, showed negative results.

The defendant claimed that the Indian Penal Code (IPC) section 304(2) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) is not applicable, as he had no knowledge that his actions could result in death. Instead, he suggested that IPC section 304A (death by negligence) should apply, which carries a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment or a fine, as opposed to up to 10 years in jail.

Mumbai court rejects bail plea of accused in accident that killed tech CEO; alcohol consumption suspected
Photo courtesy Atul Kamble / Mid-day

The victim’s husband, however, opposed the bail application through Advocate Hemant Ingale. Ingale described the crime as serious and noted that medical reports indicate the accused had consumed alcohol before the accident. As a result, he argued that the more stringent provisions of IPC section 304(2) are appropriate and that the magistrate does not have the jurisdiction to grant bail to the defendant.

Although Merchant’s initial breathalyzer test was negative, blood sample test results later revealed that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fatal accident. Police sources claimed that Merchant appeared sober when taken into custody.

Merchant stated that he was sleep-deprived and jet-lagged after returning from a work trip to the US just three days prior to the incident. He also claimed to have partied with friends at his residence in Tardeo the night before the accident, further contributing to his sleep deprivation.

Following the blood report showing alcohol content above the legal limit of 30 mg per 100 ml of blood, police added a charge under the Motor Vehicles Act section 185 (driving under the influence of alcohol).

Vijay, 58, was tragically killed on the morning of March 19 when Merchant’s vehicle struck her while she was jogging at the Worli sea-face promenade. Eyewitnesses said Rajalakshmi was jogging along the northbound road, opposite Worli Dairy, when a Tata Nexon hit her from behind and flung her in the air.