Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was drunk and driving his SUV when it ran over people sleeping on a pavement in Mumbai in 2002, the Maharashtra government told the Supreme Court on Friday while seeking a reversal of the Bombay High Court verdict acquitting him.
Terming the High Court verdict as “perverse”, “improper” and “complete travesty of justice”, Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for the state, said that Khan was driving the vehicle and “introduction” of his driver as the person, who was behind the wheels, was an “afterthought” that came to light after 13 years of the incident.
The bench comprising Justices J S Khehar and C Nagappan, however, on Friday did not issue notice to the superstar and fixed Maharashtra's plea for further hearing on February 12 as it wanted to satisfy itself on the aspect as to who was driving the vehicle on the fateful night.
The Supreme Court will hear the Maharashtra government's appeal next on 12 February, reports India Today.
Referring to sequence of events and testimonies of some of the witnesses, Rohatgi said that besides Khan, his singer friend Kamaal Khan and a constable was inside the vehicle and there are statements which amply suggest that the actor was driving.
The alcohol level was beyond permissible limit in Khan's blood sample which was collected even after 12 hours, he said, adding that it was an admitted fact that the actor lacked driving license in 2002.
The Attorney General referred to verdicts including the BMW hit-and-run case involving Delhi businessman Sanjeev Nanda and sought issuance of notice to Khan. He debunked the theory that instead of Salman, his driver Ashok Brahmadev Singh was driving the Toyota Land cruiser on the night of September 28, 2002 when it crashed into a Bandra pavement, killing one and injuring four others.
"From 2002 to 2015, this Singh did not surface. He suddenly appears after 13 years and says that he was driving," he said adding that it is "strange" and "how can the cine star keep quiet for such a long period just to save his driver".
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Salman, said the Attorney General has told "a very good story on the accident" and he has also a lot to say to counter this.
Maharashtra, on January 22, had moved the Supreme Court challenging the Bombay High Court's verdict acquitting Khan in the 2002 hit-and-run case.
The Hindu reports that Rohatgi referred to Khan’s “childhood friend” called ‘Commander’ who lived close to the place of the accident and came down after hearing the noise of the vehicle crashing to see Mr. Khan plead “save me, Commander, save me.”
The Bombay High Court has erred in not appreciating the prosecution evidence. The trial court's order convicting the actor was correct and should be upheld, it has said. The high court, in its verdict passed on December 10 last year, had held that prosecution had failed to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that the actor was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident and was drunk.
The judgement by the high court had come on an appeal by Khan, seven months after he was pronounced guilty by the trial court. The high court had rejected the statement of eyewitness Ravindra Patil, former police bodyguard of Salman, recorded by a magistrate in which he had accused the actor of driving under the influence of liquor.
The judge had said that Patil was a "wholly unreliable" witness because he had subsequently made "improvements" in his statement to the magistrate. Patil, the first informant in the case, in the FIR filed soon after the accident had not accused Salman of having consumed liquor but only said he was "speeding" against his advice.
The prosecution's case during the trial had firmly rested on the statement of Patil, who died in 2007, much before the case was tried afresh under more serious charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. The magistrate's court had conducted the trial for a much lesser offence of causing death by rash and negligent driving.
On 6 May last year, a sessions court had convicted Salman in the case.