In an unprecedented order, the Supreme Court on Tuesday stayed the conviction of cricketer-turned-BJP politician Navjot Singh Sidhu in a road rage death case paving his way for contesting the Amritsar Lok Sabha by-election necessitated by his resignation.
A Bench of Justice GP Mathur and Justice RV Raveendran made it clear that the stay order would remain in force till Sidhu’s appeal was finally decided.
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.
"It is not possible to hold, as a matter of rule, or, to lay down, that in order to prevent any person who has committed an offence from entering Parliament or the Legislative Assembly the order of conviction should not be suspended. The courts have to interpret the law as it stands and not on considerations which may be perceived to be morally more correct or ethical," the bench said.
It rejected Punjab Government’s argument that having chosen to resign, Sidhu could not seek the court’s indulgence to contest a by-poll as his seat was protected under Section 8(4) of the Representation of the People Act.
Virtually endorsing his decision to seek a fresh mandate, the bench noted that it was not necessary for him to have resigned as MP.
"However, he has chosen to adopt a moral path and has set high standards in public life by resigning from his seat and in seeking to get a fresh mandate from the people.
"In the event prayer made by the appellant is not granted he would suffer irreparable injury as he would not be able to contest for the seat which he held and has fallen vacant only on account of his voluntary resignation which he did on purely moral grounds."
Distinguishing Sidhu’s case from that of a person convicted of corruption related offence, the bench said "in such cases it is obvious that it would be highly improper to suspend the order of conviction of a public servant which would enable him to occupy the same office which he misused. This is not the case here."
The court listed at least eight points which it felt prima facie appeared to be in Sidhu’s favour.
It noted that the incident took place all of a sudden without any pre-meditation and the deceased was wholly unknown to him. There was no motive for the crime as the accused were alleged to have lost temper on account of objection raised by the occupants of the Maruti car due to obstruction caused by Sidhu’s vehicle, it said. Further, there was no weapon alleged to have been used by the accused.
The medical evidence too, the court said, showed that the deceased had a diseased heart and the doctor performing post-portem examination was unable to give the cause of death. The medical board gave its opinion after nearly a fortnight and that too did not ascribe the death due to any external injury and instead said it was due to "effects of head injury and cardiac condition".
The bench also took into account the fact that the findings on factual aspects of the case recorded in favour of Sidhu by the trial court resulting into his acquittal were reversed in appeal by the High Court.
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