Will it be a black Friday for Salman Khan? Bombay HC to decide his fate today

MUMBAI: A day after Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was convicted and sentenced to 5 years RI in a 2002 hit-and-run case, the question on everyone’s lips was: Will the Bombay high court admit his appeal and grant him bail today? Even as Bollywood personalities threw their weight behind Khan saying the sentence was too harsh, there was some relief for the actor: the Supreme Court refused to stay the interim bail granted by the HC. Also, Khan does not have to be physically present in the HC today. Usually, in law, a first appeal against a conviction is admitted by a higher court. But if bail is denied, Khan can go to the Supreme Court the same day.

Sessions judge D W Deshpande’s 240-page judgement, a copy of which came into exclusive possession of TOI first, makes it clear that he did not believe any statement made by the actor in his defence, nor did he believe Khan’s driver Ashok Singh who said it was he, and not Salman, who was driving. “Singh is a got up witness,” the judgment said.

About Khan, the judge noted: “The accused is a well-known cine actor and had knowledge that one should not drive the vehicle without licence or after consuming liquor and that too late at night. These are basic rules.”

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The entire judgment appears to rest primarily on the testimony of police constable Ravindra Patil, who was the actor’s bodyguard and was with him in the Land Cruiser when it rammed into a Bandra bakery at 2.45am on September 28, 2002, killing one and injuring four. Patil said he had asked Khan, who was drunk, to slow down. Salman’s lawyer Shrikant Shivade could not cross-examine Patil, who died in 2007, but the court held his evidence to be admissible and said “there is no reason for any prudent man to believe that Patil is falsely implicating Salman due to mob or media pressure”.

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The judge said that since the beginning, it was never Khan’s defence that his driver Singh was driving. Besides, no one suggested that Patil or singer Kamaal Khan was driving, and Khan never questioned any witness to suggest his other driver Altaf was driving initially, till he went to J W Marriott. “The only irresistible inference is that only Salman was at the wheel,” the judge concluded. The judgment said special public prosecutor Pradip Gharat “proved all eight charges” against Khan.

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“There was 0.062 percent alcohol noticed in his blood. When a person has consumed alcohol and was driving late at night… he has knowledge there an accident can kill those sleep (sic) on the footpath,” said the judge, relying on the judgement in the Alastair Pereira case.

Across the judgment, the judge held that “there was no reason” for various witnesses to lie against Khan, each time the actor questioned the evidentiary value or merit of that witness.

Here’s what the judge has said in his order on various aspects of the case:

On Khan’s conduct

“The accused is (a) renowned film actor and he could do anything to provide help to the injured. If a ghastly accident takes place, wherein one person was crushed and four were injured and in spite of that the person whose vehicle was involved in the accident hided himself (sic) till he is arrested, this itself shows the conduct of the accused,” the judgement has stated.

“If according to the accused he did not commit the accident, then he could have convinced people that action will be taken against the driver. Salman Khan did not wait for the police on the spot but he went home and till 10.30am hid himself,” the judge said.

“If really the accused Salman Khan committed no wrong, he could have visited the police immediately and lodged information about the incident. It is pertinent to note that the accused did not take any positive steps by visiting the hospital to see the injured and provide medical aid to them and to come to the spot again with the police,” the judgement noted.

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On his being drunk

According to Justice Deshpande, “Finding the alcohol in the blood is conclusive proof to demonstrate that the person had consumed alcohol. Even if Rizwan Rakhangi, the manager of Rain Bar, and Kalpesh Verma, the parking assistant, did not notice any smell that would not establish that the accused had not consumed alcohol.”

On the chemical analyst

The court discarded Salman’s claim that the analyst, Dattatray Bhalshankar, was no expert. “If under gruelling cross-examination, the witness is unable to tell the formulas and explain the test, it does not mean that he is not an expert. No doubt can be raised against him. There is no reason for him to lie against the accused. Merely because advanced techniques are not used, opinion cannot be faulted, unless technique used is faulty.” The judge on the other hand said, “If the accused would have been arrested immediately after the incident then the percentage of the alcohol in his blood would be more.”

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On Khan’s driving licence

Did Khan have a driving licence? As per the judgement, “The alleged incident occurred in the intervening night of September 27, 2002 to September 28, 2002. The burden shifts on the accused to demonstrate that he was having licence. However, nothing is produced by the accused to show that he was possessing licence. If the accused was having licence on that day, then he could have produced it. Non-production itself shows that the accused was not possessing licence.”

On the death of Nurullah Sharif

The judge labelled the defence submission that the death of the victim was caused by the falling crane that was called into lift the car and rescue the injured as imaginary and without any valid and legal evidence. Referring to an injured victim’s statement in court, the judge said, ” “How is it possible that Nurullah was alive in the hospital and he was crying in pain?… Nurullah expired because of the dash and running over his body by car when he was sleeping.”

On Ravindra Patil, the complainant and Khan’s bodyguard

Prosecution witness Ravindra Patil is a “natural and impartial witness”, the judgement has stated, and there was no reason for him to falsely implicate Khan even though he did not mention about Khan being drunk in the FIR initially.

On culpable homicide not amounting to murder

According to the judge, “When a person has consumed alcohol and was driving the car late in the night, it was difficult for the person to concentrate in the night and that he had a knowledge that there is every likelihood of his meeting with an accident resulting in death or injuries to other particularly those sleeping on the footpath. The knowledge of such fact can neither be far away from the reality, in any case would squarely fall within the term knowledge appearing in Section 304 (II) of the IPC.”

On Ashok Singh, Salman’s driver

“Ashok Singh is a got up witness who has come to help the accused on the instruction of Salim Khan, father of the accused. After 13 years for the first time under Section 313 CrPC accused has stated that initially Altaf and thereafter Ashok Singh was driving the vehicle.”

On five years’ RI

The judgement has said, “One cannot compare the punishment awarded in different cases. In some cases punishment awarded not more than 2 years does not mean that in the present case also the court has to pass similar punishment.”

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