Mumbai, December 10, 2015
The Bombay High Court on Thursday acquitted popular Bollywood actor Salman Khan of all criminal charges in a 13-year-old hit-and-run case in which a pavement dweller died after being hit by his car outside a bakery in the Bandra area of the city.
Salman Khan acquitted, HC overturns trial court's verdict
The Bombay High Court today acquitted popular Bollywood actor Salman Khan of all criminal charges in a 13-year-old hit-and-run case in which a pavement dweller died after being hit by his car outside a bakery in the Bandra area of the city.
The verdict came on an appeal filed by the actor after a sessions court had, on May 6 this year, convicted him and sentenced him to five years in prison under sections 304 (ii) and 338 of the Indian Penal Code on charges relating to culpable homicide not amounting to murder and causing grievous hurt.
"The appeal is allowed and the decision of the trial court is quashed and set aside. Salman Khan is acquitted of all charges," Justice A R Joshi said.
Justice Joshi said the prosecution had not established its case beyond reasonable doubt, as was required under criminal law, and pointed to several "anomalies" in the evidence produced by it.
Khan, 49, who was present in court when the operative part of the judgement was read out, broke down after hearing the verdict. His sister Alvira was also present in court.
Justice Joshi said the prosecution had not been able to bring material on record to establish beyond reasonable doubt that it was the actor who was driving the car and that he was under the infleunce of alcohol. It had also not been able to show whether the accident occurred bcause of a tyre burst or whether the tyre had burst during the incident, he said.
The judge also observed that the actor's police bodyguard, since deceased, who had given testimony about the actor's speeding and on which the prosecution had relied for its case, was not a "wholly reliable witness".
In his order, dictated in open court, the judge analysed in detail the evidence produced by the prosecution.
The incident occurred late in the night of September 28, 2002 when the actor's Land Cruiser went out of control and ran over five persons sleeping on the pavement outside the bakery. One person died and four others suffered injuries in the incident.
Sessions judge D W Deshpande held that all the charges against the actor, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder, had been proven.
Two days later, on May 8, the Bombay High Court suspended the sentence given by the sessions court and allowed him to apply for bail pending the disposal of his appeal. Khan had been on bail for the past 12 years.
While granting him bail, the High Court said Khan's passport would continue to be with the police, but he had the right to seek the High Court's permission to travel abroad.
The prosecution's case was that Khan was at the wheel at the time of the accident, while the defence had said that it was the actor's drivr Ashok Singh who was actually driving the vehicle then.
The prosecution also said Khan was driving without a licence and that he was drunk at that time. They also accused him of fleeing from the scene. The actor, on the other hand, said he was not driving the car, that he was not drunk and that he had not run away from the spot.
In his appeal before the High Court against his conviction, Khan had said that the verdict of the trial court must be overturned and questioned its findings. He had also pleaded against his conviction for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. He also applied for bail and stressed that he had never violated any of the bail conditions imposed on him earlier.
In the sessions court, the prosecution had produced eyewitnesses, those who were injured in the accident, employees of the bar where the actor had consumed drinks, doctors who examined his blood samples and forensic experts, among others, as witnesses.
In a surprising development, Khan's driver Ashok Singh had turned up in court, after more than 12 years, and deposed that it was he who was driving the car on that day. He said the front left tyre of the car had burst, leading to the mishap.
Khan was charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder, rash and negligent driving, causing hurt by act endangering life, causing grievous hurt, causing damage to property, driving vehicle in contravention of rules and driving at great speed after consuming alcohol.