In a big relief for cricketer-turned-legislator Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Supreme Court on Tuesday set aside his conviction for culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the 1988 road rage case. The court found the Punjab minister guilty of voluntarily causing hurt but let him off with a fine of Rs 1,000.
“The net result of all the above discussion is that the first accused cannot be held responsible for causing the death of Gurnam Singh. Therefore, the judgment under appeal is required to be set aside and is accordingly set aside,” a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and S K Kaul said.
“The material on record leads us to the only possible conclusion that we can reach that the first accused voluntarily caused hurt to Gurnam Singh punishable under Section 323 IPC,” the court stated.
Section 323 IPC stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine that may extend to Rs 1,000, or with both.
However, the court took into account the fact that the incident was 30 years old, there was no enmity between the accused and deceased, no weapon was used by the accused, and the background in which it happened. The court concluded that the fine “would meet the ends of justice”.
The incident dates back to December 27, 1988 when, according to the prosecution, Sidhu and Rupinder Sandhu were in a vehicle and had an altercation with one Gurnam Singh, when the latter asked them to give way. Police claimed that Singh was beaten up by Sidhu, who later fled the scene. The victim was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead.
Sidhu, who quit the BJP and joined the Congress before the last Punjab Assembly elections and is currently the state’s Tourism Minister, and Sandhu were acquitted by the trial court in September 1999. But the High Court reversed this in December 2006 and held them guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and sent to three years in jail. The duo challenged this in Supreme Court, which stayed the conviction pending the appeal in 2007.
Disagreeing with the High Court’s finding, the bench observed that to find an accused guilty of culpable homicide, it needed to be established that the accused caused the death. The court said Sidhu had caused only one injury on the head of the deceased, which resulted in a corresponding subdural haemorrage.
On whether this would have led to the death, the bench found that “medical evidence is absolutely uncertain regarding the cause of death of Gurnam Singh”.