In a major reprieve for Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, the Bombay High Court suspended the five-year sentence awarded to him in the 2002 hit-and-run case, admitted his appeal against conviction and granted him bail.
Justice Abhay Thipsay directed Khan to surrender before the trial court forthwith and execute a fresh bail bond of Rs. 30,000. The interim bail granted to the actor hours after his conviction and sentencing on Wednesday was to expire today.
While admitting the 49-year-old actor’s appeal, the HC said it will expedite the hearing on it and posted the matter for June 15. “This is not a case where I should keep him (Khan) in jail till his appeal is heard and decided. Why his right should 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 observed.
“The normal rule is that when an appeal is admitted and the sentence is under seven years, it (the sentence) is suspended. Why do you (prosecution) want to depart from this norm?” the court said.
Justice Thipsay noted that Khan has been on bail throughout the trial even after being slapped with the serious charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. “There are a number of arguable points raised about whether or not Khan was driving the car. It is also nobody’s case that Khan will abscond if he released on bail, pending appeal,” he said. Justice Thipsay directed Khan to seek court’s permission before travelling abroad.
Soon after the high court’s order, a visibly relieved Salman, dressed in casuals and sporting sun glasses, left his Bandra residence for the sessions court in the Fort area of south Mumbai to execute the fresh bail bond. Jubilant fans and well-wishers, who had gathered outside his residence since morning, erupted in joy when the news reached them.
The prosecution case is that Khan ran over five persons sleeping on the pavement in suburban Bandra, where the actor also resides, before ramming a bakery with his SUV on September 28, 2002, killing one person and injuring four. The trial court had on Wednesday convicted and sentenced him to five years’ rigorous imprisonment on the charge of culpable homicide and under various other provisions of IPC and other laws.
Khan’s lawyer Amit Desai argued that the trial court had not considered the defence of the accused that there were four persons in the car, including his driver Ashok Singh, who was behind the wheel at the time of the accident.
He read out the evidence of four witnesses, including the investigating officer, who had said there were four people in the vehicle. Desai also argued that prosecution’s sole eyewitness Ravindra Patil (Khan’s then police bodyguard) was an “unwilling witness” and he was “forced” to give his evidence about Khan driving the car. The lawyer said Patil had in an interview a day after the accident said there were four persons in the car. However, during the trial, he contradicted himself by saying there were only three persons.
Desai said the trial court judgement holding that Khan was driving the car and that he was under the influence of liquor was not satisfactory. He also said that the trial court had failed to consider the defence plea of a ‘tyre burst’ having caused the accident.
Khan’s lawyer also questioned the prosecution’s failure to examine singer Kamaal Khan, who was present in the car at the relevant time along with the actor and was a key eye witness.
Government pleader Sandeep Shinde, though not opposing the admission of appeal, objected to suspension of the sentence and argued that Khan had knowledge of consequences of rash and negligent and drunken driving. Therefore, he said, the trial court had rightly convicted Khan under the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.