The Bombay High Court has been scathing in its comments on the police investigation while acquitting actor Salman Khan of the charge of drink driving and running his vehicle over people sleeping on the pavement not far from his house, killing one of them and injuring four on the night of September 27, 2002. In a damning indictment, the court said the police manufactured evidence and tutored witnesses to strengthen their case and did not bother to follow the duly laid-down principles of criminal jurisprudence.
The criticism of the police should come as no surprise, given the twists and turns the case has taken as it dragged on for more than 13 years. There were delays from the beginning, most of them on the part of the police. Then their star witness, Salman’s police bodyguard, died of tuberculosis during the course of the trial; the high court has now trashed the manner in which his testimony was recorded and re-recorded to strengthen the prosecution case in blatant disregard of established practices. More bizarre was the way the case papers suddenly went missing for a while from the police station where they were kept. It was only after the trial court came down heavily on them that the police made the effort to find the file. Another curious omission was the way one of Salman’s friends, who was in the car with him, Kamal Khan, was never asked to make a deposition.
Callous disregard for following procedures and processes that would withstand stringent judicial scrutiny marked the investigation from the start and this is what attracted the high court’s ire. The way blood samples were collected, statements of witnesses were recorded and key witnesses were not examined left too many loopholes, which the prosecution then sought to brush aside. If this is the way the police investigate a case that generated a lot of public interest and scrutiny, it can only give rise to conjecture. Questions will naturally be raised about their efficiency and integrity. But the custodians of the law have only themselves to blame for the ignominy and censure they face. Whatever turn the case now takes — if the prosecution goes in appeal to the Supreme Court — the fact remains that the Mumbai police have added one more stain to their already tarnished reputation.