YP Singh Column: Time for damage control to fix lapses in Salman case
It was on a dull afternoon in the monsoon of 2012 that I received information that the police were manipulating the Salman Khan trial. This information was verified, and the inferences from it were startling.
One could see that the case had languished for about eight years, even though the trial had commenced in right earnest. People had just forgotten about the case. No one was aware what was happening. The investigation had faltered on various counts. With a view to ensure that the case was woken from slumber, full facts were presented before the press on November 2, 2012. Thereafter, an application was made under Section 340 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), 1973, before the court to take action against the cops who had faltered and had put out wrong facts. The court then issued summons to the police and also to Salman Khan.
Amidst all this, the case got transferred to the Sessions Court. Now, the ruling of the High Court is known to one and all.
From facts and law, it is apparent that the police weakened the case and committed lapses on several counts. The conduct of the police was intriguing and highly suspicious when the only surviving star eyewitness, Kamaal Khan — whose testimony was pivotal to the case — was dropped. This was after he had submitted a written bond undertaking to appear for deposition, and after summons had been issued by the Sessions court for his appearance.
Then, the police made a mockery of the trial, where, out of 64 witnesses against whom summons were issued, 37 were dropped. Many witnesses could have given testimonies crucial in proving the case. How could the police drop so many critical witnesses?
The police also made another glaring lapse during investigation — while they took statements of three less crucial witnesses before the Magistrate under Section 164 of the CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure), they did not record the statements of star witnesses Kamaal Khan and Ravindra Patil. Both of them had deposed during the police investigation that it was Salman who was at the wheel.
What is further noteworthy is that the police’s role during the trial was highly passive. When the police got to know that Ashok Singh was falsely put up as the driver, they abdicated their statutory obligation to move for perjury charge, which would have ensured that the person giving false evidence could be punished in accordance with the law. Any aggressive prosecution machinery, committed to defending the case, would have done so. If this legal obligation were to have been accomplished, perhaps, the position of the prosecution in the High Court would have been much stronger.
When so many aforesaid circumstances were engineered by the prosecution to help Salman, the High Court verdict comes as no surprise. Nevertheless, the court could have invoked the option to send the case for retrial under Section 386 of the CrPC to rectify the defects.
But the next important question is should we keep quiet to see the offender walk free with a demeanour tinged with put-up redemption. Certainly not.
The prosecution has to retrieve the case by moving the Supreme Court, which can either convict the accused or put up the case for further investigation and trial. It is also necessary to figure out who were the cops who bestowed their statutory grace on Salman, and ensure they face the due consequences.
If, in this case, where the entire nation is watching, justice is not made synchronous with the judgment, the faith and confidence of the people in our criminal justice system shall be undermined. Hence, it is imperative to devise a strategy for damage control.
YP Singh is a former IPS officer turned lawyer
Read more stories on the 2002 hit-and-run case