The Maharashtra government moved the Supreme Court on Friday, challenging Bollywood star Salman Khan's acquittal by the Bombay High Court in a 2002 hit-and-run case filed after the actor Khan's Toyota Land Cruiser ran over five men sleeping outside American Express bakery in Mumbai's Bandra locality. Khan was convicted in May 2015 by a trial court of killing one man on the night of 28 September, 2002.
The High Court shot down the trial court's ruling on 10 December, acquitted Khan of all charges and scrapped his five-year jail term. The high court said that the prosecution was not able to sufficiently establish that the 49-year-old star was behind the wheel that night or was drunk at the time of the accident.
The appeal, filed by state counsel Nishant R Katneshwarkar, criticizes the HC ruling on the ground that it ignored Salman’s conduct who did not make any attempt to report the accident to the police.
The state is questioning how the actor took the defence, for the first time in 12 years, that his driver was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident, reports The Hindustan Times.
The HC had ignored the crucial statement of the injured witness who had testified Salman was on the driver’s seat, the state said. It insisted the court should have taken into account the evidence of the actor’s bodyguard, Ravindra Patil. Patil had died by the time trial started in the case.
The Indian Express reports that Maharashtra’s chief standing counsel Nishant R Katneshwarkar filed the petition. Here, the state of Maharashtra is refuting the HC finding that the probe was conducted to weaken the prosecution’s case.
The state police version in the new petition is that the Bombay High Court has "not appreciated the evidence on record in its proper perspective.”
The Maharashtra government petition disputes the High Court view that the investigation was careless and faulty. The State government claims that enough witnesses were examined to frame charges against Salman Khan.
The appeal said evidence of complainant Ravindra Patil, who was with Salman in the Toyota Land Cruiser, was legally tenable and its rejection was wrong. Patil was the actor’s bodyguard who had said Salman was driving drunk and had ignored his warnings.
Patil died of tuberculosis in 2007. The petition says the prosecution could not have been indicted for non-examination of Kamaal Khan in the trial court, who was also in the SUV on September 28, 2002. It said the HC had also ignored the “conduct” of Salman as he did not make any attempt to report the incident to police or help the victims.
Rewind to the acquittal
Justice AR Joshi, who heard Khan's appeal against the five-year sentence awarded to him by a sessions court, dictated the detailed judgment for three days starting from 7 December, and then pronounced the verdict .
"The appeal is allowed and the decision of the trial court is quashed and set aside. Salman Khan is acquitted of all charges," Justice Joshi said.
On hearing the verdict, Salman Khan broke down in court.
The court has set aside his sentence of imprisonment for five years.
The sessions court had convicted Salman Khan under section 304 (ii) and section 338 of the Indian Penal Code, for charges relating to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing grievous hurt.
In his judgment, Justice Joshi expressed doubts over the statement of eye witness Ravindra Patil, former police bodyguard of of the actor, recorded by a Magistrate, in which he had implicated the actor. As far as the deposition of Ashok Singh, the family driver of Salim Khan, is concerned, it was as per rules and laid down procedures of criminal law, the court said.
"This court has come to the conclusion that the prosection has failed to bring material on record to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant (Salman Khan) was driving and was under the influence of alcohol," the court observed.
Salman contended that the charge of culpable homicide was not justified and wrongly invoked in the case. He also challenged the prosecution's step of relying upon Patil's statement in the trial court, saying this witness died and hence was not available for cross-examination.
The prosecution opposed Salman's plea and justified the invocation of culpable homicide charge against the actor saying he had driven the car in a rash and negligent manner under the influence of liquor in September 2002, when he met with a mishap.
While the prosecution has argued that the actor had taken alcoholic drinks at Rain Bar and Restaurant at Vile Parle before meeting with the mishap in suburban Bandra, Salman has denied the charge saying evidence does not suggest this.
Earlier, the HC had rejected Salman's plea on issuing a directive to examine Kamaal Khan as witness.
Way back in 2002, the Bombay High Court had directed Khan to pay a total of Rs 19 lakh as compensation to the victims. This included Rs 10 lakh to the family of Nurullah Sharif, who died in the accident, as reported by The Times of India. However, the relatives of Sharif were quoted by Hindustan Times as saying in May this year that they have not yet received the compensation.
With PTI inputs