If fan-mobs and adulation-by-mimicking are markers of Bollywood stardom, Salman Khan is easily better than the greats — for every other bike-riding, body-sculpting local Romeo in Mumbai wants to be like ‘Bhai’. So, it’s natural that the stakes will be high for the Bollywood star when a trial court in Mumbai announces its verdict on his 2002 hit-and-run case on Wednesday.
A rumoured Rs 150 crore is riding on him in Bollywood, with such projects as Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Prem Ratan Dhan Payo in various stages of production. Salman’s brand endorsements are worth about Rs 200 crore.
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The star has been tried for allegedly driving his Toyota Land cruiser into a bakery in Bandra, suburban Mumbai, on September 28, 2002, killing one and injuring four. The trial, one of the longest in a hit-and-run case, has had twists and turns right from 2003 when the actor challenged the application of Section 304 (II) IPC, for culpable homicide not amounting to murder. After the Bombay HC in 2003 held that that section was not applicable, Maharashtra appealed to the Supreme Court, which held that the magistrate should peruse the evidence and decide whether the section should be invoked.
The trial court then framed charges for rash and negligent driving in 2006 and examined witnesses for nearly five years before the prosecution sought to enhance the charges. In December 2012, having examined 17 witnesses already, the court ruled that a case was indeed made out under Section 304 (II) and committed the trial to a Mumbai sessions court. Salman filed a revision application, but this was rejected and a fresh trial ordered in December 2013.
Twenty-seven prosecution witnesses were examined, including constable Ravindra Patil who was posted as his police escort at the time of the accident. Patil died in 2007, a few years after he deposed that Salman was driving, and had been drinking.
Bar manager Rizwan Rakhangi told the court that he had seen Salman sipping a clear liquid. Bar attendant Malay Bag said he had served Salman and his friends white rum and cocktails, besides prawns and chicken.
The lone defence witness has been Salman’s family driver since 1990. Ashok Singh told the court on April 20, for the first time in the 12-year-old case, that it was he who was driving that night. Asked why he had been quiet so long, Singh said, “Salim Khan told me to go to court and tell the truth.” He maintained that a tyre burst caused the accident.
The prosecution insists Salman was driving. The defence has argued recently that one man died after the car fell on him when it was being lifted by a crane after the accident.