Over 12 years after his vehicle, a Toyota Land Cruiser, ran over five men sleeping on the pavement in Bandra, leaving one dead and the others injured, a Mumbai sessions court on Wednesday convicted Bollywood actor Salman Khan and sentenced him to five years rigorous imprisonment. However, hours later, the Bombay High Court granted him interim bail until May 8.
Sessions judge D W Deshpande found Khan guilty under all eight charges, including Section 304-II of the Indian Penal Code for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and Sections 337 and 338 for rash and negligent driving.
While the prosecution sought maximum punishment of 10 years, Khan was given five years and fined Rs 25,000.
Less than half-an-hour later, the 49-year-old actor’s legal team brought in senior counsel Harish Salve to argue his bail plea in the Bombay High Court, which granted him relief until May 8. Salve argued that a copy of the sessions court judgment was not available and, therefore, bail should be granted till May 8 when his regular bail plea is slated to be heard. The application was placed for production on grounds of extreme urgency.
Stating that Khan had been granted bail throughout the trial and a copy of the judgment had not been handed to him, High Court Judge A M Thipsay said, “It would be proper to protect the appellant for some time in the interest of the case.”
Earlier in the day, at 11.15 am, sessions judge Deshpande pronounced his verdict in the packed courtroom. While rejecting the contention that Khan’s driver, Ashok Singh, was at the wheel at the time of accident, the court, however, rejected a perjury application filed by the prosecution against Singh.
“You didn’t have a licence… all charges are proved,” the judge told Khan, adding that he was found to be driving the vehicle and was in an inebriated condition that night. The court also rejected the defence lawyer’s theory that the victim had received fatal injuries after the vehicle fell while it was being lifted by a crane.
Informing him that the maximum punishment was 10 years, the judge asked Khan if he had anything to say. “You are the judge, whatever you say is correct,” replied Khan.
Khan’s lawyer, Shrikant Shivade, argued for nearly an hour on the quantum of punishment, drawing attention to the actor’s charitable work through his ‘Being Human’ foundation. He said most of Khan’s income was directed towards causes supported by Being Human, and this work would suffer if the actor was put behind bars. He said Khan should be given three years’ imprisonment and asked to carry out community service.
“Ultimately people benefit… an eye for an eye is not the policy of law,” he said. “Rs 42 crore has been disbursed in the last three years, several people have undergone heart surgeries, 700 underprivileged children have been treated. We have been working in the area of healthcare, education, pediatric care and blindness,” he said.
The lawyer also cited the actor’s health condition, a neurological disorder, and said a prolonged sentence may affect him. He submitted Khan’s medical report dated August 31, 2011, given by doctors of a Pittsburgh facility where he underwent treatment. “A repeat angiogram in four to six months could indeed show if the aneurysm has changed in any way,” says the report. The lawyer was stopped by the actor’s sister from reading the report aloud, even as Khan himself appeared to frown.
Citing the Supreme Court orders in the Sanjeev Nanda and Alister Pereira hit-and-run cases, Shivade said Khan’s case was on a “much better footing”. He said the accused in the two cases were given minimum imprisonment and community service. But special public prosecutor Pradeep Gharat sought “maximum deterrent and exemplary punishment” as a lesson to society.
Meanwhile, a huge crowd of fans gathered outside the court premises. There were a couple of disruptions in court because of the chaos outside. A short power failure also caused a 20-minute disruption during the arguments on quantum of punishment.
After a break, the court reassembled at around 1.35 pm, when the actor was told that he was sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment. Khan was surrounded by his brothers Sohail and Arbaaz, and sisters Alvira and Arpita. As he left the courtroom, Gharat walked up to him and shook his hand. The actor smiled.
The wait in the courtroom continued till the High Court pronounced the interim bail order at 6.55 pm. The judge then told Khan, “You are free to go.”