The Bombay high court on Thursday acquitted Bollywood star Salman Khan of all charges in the 2002 hit-and-run case, quashing a trial court verdict that held him guilty of driving his Toyota Land Cruiser over people sleeping on a Bandra footpath.
Justice AR Joshi said the 49-year-old actor cannot be convicted because the “prosecution has failed to prove the charges against Khan on all counts”.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government will decide on “further course of action” after examining the high court judgment.
Salman, who was sitting with a straight face along with sister Alvira and manager Reshma, reportedly broke down in tears once the verdict was read. He left the courtroom after the judge directed him to furnish a fresh surety bond of Rs 25,000 and asked police to return his passport.
The actor had appealed against the sessions court’s May order that delivered a five-year jail sentence after convicting him of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for running over five people on a pavement, one of whom died later, in Bandra West on September 28, 2002.
Justice Joshi observed he cannot be convicted on the basis of evidence submitted by the prosecution. He also pointed out “various shortcomings in the investigation and prosecution’s evidence”.
“Doubt arises over involvement of appellant on charges … Investigation was conducted in a faulty manner with scant regard to procedure,” he said after seeking Salman’s presence in court before pronouncing the final verdict.
On Wednesday, the high court opened a window of hope for the popular actor when it had observed that the prosecution had not convincingly proved he was drunk or at the wheel of his SUV when the vehicle ran over five people in Bandra West on September 28, 2002.
The court said on Thursday the prosecution failed to prove the actor was dunk on the night of the accident.
Justice Joshi also absolved Salman of charges that he fled the accident spot without securing medical aid to the injured, an offence under the mother vehicles act. He said circumstances went out of the actor’s control as a “violent crowd” had gathered at the spot.
The judge, who has been dictating the verdict for the past three days, earlier said it was difficult to rely on the testimony of Ravindra Patil, the police guard who was in the vehicle at the time of the accident.
He observed that Patil, who died of tuberculosis in 2007, was not a “wholly reliable witness” because of the numerous changes in his statements during the course of the trial, although he was the lone witness to testify that Salman was drunk at the wheel.
“Even if Patil’s statement has to be considered as partially reliable, there has to be corroboration in evidence which does not exist in this case,” Joshi said.
The drink-driving charge looked doubtful since Patil didn’t mention it in the FIR filed hours after the accident but said so a few days later after Salman’s blood test reports came in. Later, he turned hostile and retracted his statement.
Justice Joshi also made crucial observations on the defence witness, Salman’s family driver Ashok Singh, as well as singer-friend Kamaal Khan, who was with the actor in the car but the prosecution never examined him in court.
The loyal driver took the blame for the accident after Salman was held guilty in May, saying he was driving the car on that fateful night. The prosecution dismissed his confession as 13 years too late.
Justice Joshi didn’t agree with the prosecution’s argument.
He also took a strong stand against the prosecution for its failure to examine Kamaal Khan, who was in the country till 2007 before he settled abroad.
The court said the prosecution had failed to prove that the left front tyre of Salman’s car burst after the accident that night. The actor had maintained all along that the car swung out of control and jumped onto the pavement following a tyre burst on Hill Road in Bandra.
(With agency inputs)