Bollywood actor Salman Khan will not have to go to jail, pending disposal of his appeal against conviction in the 2002 hit-and-run case. The Bombay high court on Friday suspended Khan’s five-year jail term, triggering celebrations among his fans.
The single-judge bench of justice Abhay Thipsay, however, asked the 49-year-old actor to surrender his passport and seek fresh bail from the sessions court, which had convicted and sentenced him on Wednesday. The next hearing in the high court is expected to take place on June 15.
“This is not a case where I should keep him (Khan) in jail till his appeal is heard and decided. Why should his right suffer when his appeal is admitted and kept pending? In many cases people have suffered and spent their entire prison term only to be acquitted later by the high court,” justice Thipsay said.
Khan was not present in the HC, but later, the actor, accompanied by his team of lawyers, reached the sessions court and furnished a fresh bail bond for Rs 30,000.
“We cannot take pleasure in the fact that someone is in custody. There is no law that says if there is alcohol [in blood] it is culpable homicide,” said justice Thipsay. “Even on the basis that there is sufficient evidence saying the accused was driving, several other conditions have to be taken into consideration.”
The hearing took a dramatic turn when the actor’s lawyer asked why singer Kamaal Khan had not been examined by the police. Kamaal was in the car when the actor drove his Toyota Land Cruiser onto a pavement in Bandra on September 28, 2002, killing a man and injuring four others.
Arguing for Khan, senior lawyer Amit Desai told the high court that the sessions judge, who handed down the sentence to Khan, had ignored crucial facts and there were no eyewitnesses in the case.
He said there was a dispute if there were three to four persons in the car when the accident took place.
Desai told the court that one of the prosecution witnesses, a person who owned a shop next to the spot of the accident, had stated that he saw Salman coming out of the car. “The witness also says that two [more] persons were also there [apart from Salman] and the police constable, but when he was cross-examined he said: ‘I do not know where the two went’,” Desai told the court.
Public prosecutor Sandip Shinde opposed the plea for suspension of sentence. Shinde said that there was no fourth person in the vehicle, as right from the very beginning, Khan’s then bodyguard Ravindra Patil, a Mumbai police constable, had maintained in his statements to the police that there were only three people in the vehicle. About Kamal Khan, Shinde said that since he is a British national and was not at all available for testifying, his evidence was not recorded.
The prosecutor said that there was sufficient cogent evidence to prove all vital aspects – that Salman was driving the vehicle, he was drunk and the tyre of the vehicle burst because of the impact of the accident and the accident did not take place because the tyre burst.
Justice Thipsay, however, granting relief to Khan, said, “Normal rule is that if the sentence is less than seven years’ imprisonment, the sentence is to be suspended if the accused person has remained on bail during the trial,” said the judge. “Special reasons are required to change the status quo [prevailing during the trial]… There must be something extraordinary.”
Thipsay sought the deposition of Ravindra Patil, a Mumbai Police constable who was the then bodyguard of Khan. Patil was the first to inform police about the accident, and it was on his statement that an FIR was registered at Bandra police station.
Desai told the court that one of the prosecution witnesses, a person who owned a shop next to the spot of the accident, had stated that he saw Salman coming out of the car.
"The witness also says that two (more) persons were also there (apart from Salman) and the police constable, but when he was cross-examined he says: 'I do not know where the two went'," Desai told the court.
Justice Thipsay said, "I want to know how many witnesses deposed before the sessions court and the magistrate court. I want to know whether the witnesses have had after thoughts."
As the news of the high court’s relief to the actor broke on Friday afternoon, hundreds of fans, who had filled up every space available around the court premises and outside Khan’s Bandra residence, broke out into wild celebrations. At one point, police had to use force to disperse the fans outside the court.
Later in the evening, the actor appeared on the first-floor balcony of his Bandra home and waved to fans, who were singing, dancing and even bursting crackers. Also seen with the actor were his father Salim, mother Salma, brother Arbaaz and sister Arpita.
Earlier, a man in his 30s – claiming to be a family member and fan of the actor – had even consumed poison while the hearing was on. He was rushed to a hospital nearby by the police.
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(With agency inputs)