Hit-n-run case: Salman's defence of not driving car unacceptable: Prosecution

Prosecution today rejected Bollywood star Salman Khan's defence that it was his driver Ashok Singh who was driving his vehicle at the time of the 2002 mishap, saying it appears to be a "brought up" witness whose contention was belated and introduced at the fag end of the trial.

Khan had submitted for the first time on Monday that Singh was at the wheel and not him, while giving his statement after evidence was closed in the case, said special public prosecutor Pradeep Gharat today while making final arguments in the sessions court.

Salman Khan
Salman Khan

Khan has been charged with killing one person and injuring four others by ramming his vehicle into a bakery shop in suburban Bandra in the wee hours of September 28, 2002.

In his arguments, Gharat said none of the witnesses examined in the court was given this suggestion or confronted with this new piece of evidence claimed by Khan.

Gharat argued that Khan had not mentioned about his driver Ashok Singh at any stage of the trial earlier and had disclosed this only when his statement was being recorded. At that time, the actor was also asked by the judge if he wished to examine himself. To this, he had replied in the negative. "If he (Khan) had chosen to examine himself he would have been exposed in cross-examination, Gharat further argued.

The accused had in the beginning of the trial accepted that the vehicle was owned by him and was in his possession when the mishap occurred. Even at that stage he did not disclose that his driver Ashok Singh was driving the car at the relevant time, said Gharat.

Singh had told the sessions court last month that it was he was behind the wheel, and not the actor, at the time of the accident.

The prosecution has alleged that Khan did not have driving licence and was under the influence of liquor at the time of the accident. Khan had denied both charges. "It appears that he (Ashok Singh) is a 'brought up' witness and as such his evidence cannot be accepted", Gharat contended.

The prosecutor said police constable Ravindra Ptil, a complainant in the case and also bodyguard of Khan, had said in his statement about three persons occupying the car -- he (himself), accused Salman and his friend Kamaal.

Even Patil had not mentioned about the fourth person, i.e Ashok Singh, as claimed by the actor, the prosecutor said. The prosecutor said the theory of "false implication" put up by the accused is totally ruled out because victims who were injured in the mishap had testified that they had seen Khan getting down from the driver's seat. Besides, the complainant was accompanying Khan when he was driving the car and allegedly ran over people sleeping outside a shop.

"Both the complainant and victims are independent and impartial witnesses and their testimony should be accepted. It cannot be said that they were on inimical terms with Khan and hence they were falsely implicating him," said Gharat. He said the evidence of Patil, who had died during the trial, should be accepted in toto.

Referring to Khan's claim that Patil was dozing off when the mishap occurred, the prosecutor asked, "How can that be so?. He was on night duty on that day and was accompanying the actor. He cannot sleep when he is on duty."

The prosecutor further argued that Khan had tried to reverse the evidence that had surfaced in the trial by saying that Patil was sleeping in the car when the mishap took place. Gharat said the victims who were injured in the mishap, had described the incident.

However, there could be variations or exaggerations in their narration because perception of every person is different than the others. Even Supreme Court has laid down such variations could happen because of different perceptions of witnesses.

The prosecution assailed the defence theory that the mishap had occurred due to a mechanical fault in Khan's Land Cruiser Lexus and also because of tyre burst.

"That is not possible because the car is a high end sport utility vehicle and has a display panel indicator which gives alerts if any defects crop up. The car is a fully automatic power-loaded one which will not take it away from the road in case of mechanical failure," said the prosecutor.

Assuming that there was a mechanical fault in the car and the accused while driving it had not seen the display panel indicator for defects which may have crept in, then his act amounts to rash and negligence which is an offence under Motor Vehicles act, Gharat argued.

The arguments were inconclusive and would continue on April 6. The prosecution has examined more than 25 witnesses while the defence examined only one witness (apart from Salman Khan who is the accused) during the trial.

A fresh trial started after the earlier judge, a magistrate, added the charge of the 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' which attracts a prison sentence up to ten years, and referred the case to the sessions court.

The earlier charge was 'rash and negligent driving' for which the maximum jail term is two years. The prosecution examined witnesses to prove that before the mishap Salman had visited a bar with his friends, to substantiate the charge that he was drunk.

It alleged that he did not have a driving licence at the time, which he got only in 2004. However, the actor argued that the licence he got in 2004 was not the first one obtained by him.

Besides the charge of culpable homicide (section 304 part II), the actor is also facing charges of causing death of one person by negligent driving (sec 279), causing hurt to persons by act endangering personal safety (sec 337) and causing damage to property (sec 427) under the Indian Penal Code. He is also facing charges under the Motor Vehicles Act (driving without licence), and Bombay Prohibition Act (driving after consuming liquor).

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