The Bombay High Court on Wednesday deferred till July 13 an appeal filed by Bollywood superstar Salman Khan against the five-year sentence awarded to him in the hit-and-run case, after the actor's lawyer sought time to check documents.
Although the 'paper book' (compilation of evidence and documents) is ready and copies have been served to both the sides by the court), Salman's counsel Amit Desai urged for three weeks' adjournment to check whether the documents were in order.
Justice A R Joshi, however, granted adjournment till July 13 to carry out the drill of checking documents. The actor's lawyer said he would need to check whether translation of any document in vernacular language is required to be done in English. He also wanted to check whether any documents were missing, in which case he would file an application seeking a direction to place them on record.
On behalf of the Maharashtra government, Chief Public Prosecutor S S Shinde consented to the adjournment date. Salman did not come to the court. His sister Alvira was, however, present. The HC had on May 8 stayed the execution of the 5-year sentence awarded to 49-year-old Salman in the 13-year-old case and granted him bail while admitting his appeal.
Salman was convicted by a sessions court on May 6 and sentenced to five years' imprisonment on various counts, including culpable homicide not amounting to murder'. A man was killed and four others were wounded when the actor's Toyota Land Cruiser ran over them while they were asleep on a pavement outside a bakery in suburban Bandra on September 28, 2002.
Salman has challenged the findings of the trial court that he was drunk and was driving under the influence of liquor. The actor pleaded that the trial court had wrongly convicted him under the culpable homicide charge, because he had no knowledge that he would meet with an accident.
In the appeal, Salman argued that the trial court had failed to appreciate the fact that four prosecution witnesses, including the investigating officer, had said that there were four persons present in the Toyota Land Cruiser when the accident occurred and that it was the family driver Ashok Singh who was at the wheel.
Apart from being convicted of culpable homicide, Salman was also found guilty of offences under section 279 of IPC (rash and negligent driving) and sections 337 and 338 of IPC (causing hurt by acts endangering life or personal property of others), which prescribe six months' jail. Besides, he was sentenced to undergo jail for six months under sections 181 (driving without licence) and 185 (drink driving) of Motor Vehicles Act.
Salman was also found guilty under the Bombay Prohibition Act's section 66 (a) and (b) for which he received two months imprisonment and fine of Rs 500. All sentences will run concurrently. Salman's lawyer Amit Desai had earlier argued in HC during admission of the actor's appeal that the prosecution's sole eyewitness Ravindra Patil (actor's then police bodyguard who passed away in 2007) was an 'unwilling witness' and he was 'forced' to give his evidence about Salman driving the car.
The lawyer had also contended that 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 argued that the trial court judgement holding that Salman 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.
The actor's lawyer had 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 eyewitness. However, government pleader Sandeep Shinde, though not opposing admission of appeal, had objected to suspension of the sentence and argued that Salman had knowledge of consequences of rash and negligent and drunken driving.
Therefore, he said, the trial court had rightly convicted the accused under the charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder. Shinde said the blood test of Salman Khan revealed there was alcohol content above the permissible limit. He also said that while Kamaal Khan's statement was recorded by police during investigation, he was not available to them for examination before the trial court as he was a UK national.
Refuting the defence claim of four persons travelling in the vehicle, Shinde said the theory of Ashok Singh being at the wheel was introduced at the fag end of the trial when the actor made a statement under section 313 of CrPC, and termed it as an 'afterthought'.