The Supreme Court on Thursday reserved its verdict on the plea of cricketer-turned-BJP politician Navjot Singh Sidhu for stay of his conviction in a road rage death case to enable him contest Amritsar Lok Sabha by-election necessitated by his resignation.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court had last month held him and co-convict Rupinder Singh Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for the death of one Gurnam Singh in 1988 in Patiala and sentenced them to three-year imprisonment.
The verdict to be delivered by a Bench of Justice GP Mathur and Justice RV Raveendran early next week would decide Sidhu's immediate political future and whether he could contest the Amritsar Lok Sabha by-poll for which filing of nominations commended on Thursday. The filing of nominations closes on January 25.
It is for the first time that the apex court is deciding this issue and a positive verdict for Sidhu could open floodgates for convicted politicians approaching the Supreme Court and High Courts for stay of conviction to keep their political career alive.
The Punjab Government and the victim's family vehemently opposed Sidhu's plea on the ground that a person's conviction cannot be stayed simply because he wanted to contest an election.
Appearing for the Punjab Government, senior counsel Sushil Kumar submitted that under the provisions of the Representation of the People Act, there was no need for Sidhu to resign as a sitting MP was protected under Section 8(4) of the Act, if he challenged his conviction.
However, having chosen to resign on high moral grounds Sidhu could not ask for stay of conviction to contest elections, Kumar said, adding the former MP should wait for the final verdict. "If the conviction is stayed he would go to the public saying he has been exonerated by the apex court," Kumar submitted.
Appearing for the victim's family, senior counsel Rakesh Dwivedi argued that in the last 57 years a conviction has never been stayed and such an order could be used by convicted politicians to contest elections.
As the court sought to know whether it could grant relief to a convicted person if it prima facie appeared that the conviction was erroneous, Dwivedi said it would amount to deciding his appeal.
Dwivedi submitted that stay of conviction was an exception and not a rule and it could not be granted in the instant case, which he said, was a "fool-proof case".
Earlier, on behalf of Sidhu senior counsel Harish Salve cited a recent Supreme Court ruling and said if the convict states the reason for stay of conviction and if irreversible damage was likely to be caused to him, the court should grant the desired relief.
According to a Supreme Court ruling last year, a person disqualified to contest elections on account of his/her conviction and sentence of over two years, could contest only if the conviction and sentence — both are stayed and not just the sentence. However, this decision was on an election petition and not in a criminal case.
Sidhu and Sandhu have challenged the December 1 and December 6, 2006 orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court on their conviction and sentence.
The trial court had in September 1999 acquitted him but the High Court reversed that verdict and held him and Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder for the death of one Gurnam Singh in 1988.
Sidhu has contended that the incident took place 18 years ago and the High Court should not have reversed the trial court's order of acquittal without there being any compelling circumstances.
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