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Salman Khan's acquittal in 2002 hit and run case: Justice has finally prevailed or defeated?
In the wee hours of September 28, 2002, a white Toyota Land Cruiser crashed into American Express Bakery in suburban Bandra, Mumbai killing one pavement dweller sleeping right outside the bakery and injuring four others.

The car belonged to ace Bollywood actor Salman Khan and eyewitnesses maintained that it was Salman who was driving the car. He was arrested the next morning and charged under IPC Section 304(II) (which attracts a 10-year jail sentence), sections 279, 337, 338, 427, and under Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949.

Indian judiciary is known for running at snail's pace. On 6 May 2015, Salman was found guilty of all charges in the case. A Bombay sessions court concluded that Salman Khan was driving the car under the influence of alcohol causing the death of one and serious injury to four homeless persons.

Sessions judge DW Deshpande convicted the actor for culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to five years in prison. Later on the same day, Salman Khan, being represented by Senior Counsel, Amit Desai was granted bail by the Bombay High Court till 8 May 2015 on which the court suspended his prison sentence until the final appeal hearing.

His driver Ashok Singh, who had given the testimony that it was him who was driving the car at the time of accident, was charged with perjury for misguiding the Court with false testimony and was arrested.

On 10th December 2015, the Bombay High Court acquitted Salman Khan of all charges related to the hit and run case after hearing his appeal against the verdict of Sessions Court meted out to him seven months back.

Justice AR Joshi while announcing the final verdict reportedly said, "This court has come to a conclusion that the prosecution has failed to bring material on record to establish beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant (Salman Khan) was driving and under the influence of alcohol…."

He further mentioned, "evidences have been analysed in detail to ascertain whether prosecution has attained that standard of proof, which is required to be established especially to prove the charge of Section 304-II of the Indian Penal Code (culpable homicide not amounting to murder)."

The HC said that it had come to the conclusion of erroneous application of section 33 of Evidence Act as it observed that a proviso to the Evidence Act was not complied before accepting the evidence.

So the justice has finally prevailed or it has been defeated?

Considering the twists and turns related to this case, one will have his own doubts.

The prime witness, police constable Ravindra Patil who was Khan's bodyguard, had mentioned that Salman was driving the car under the influence of alcohol at a high speed. He had told Salman Khan to slow down but he didn't listen to him.

After the accident it was Patil who informed Police and also lodged an FIR in the police station. Patil died on 4 October 2007 because of tuberculosis. There are unconfirmed reports that there was a mystery in the kidnapping and eventual death of Patil with some suspecting the involvement of organised crime. The absence of this prime witness was of utmost significance in the hearing of the case. The Bombay High Court mentioned that he was "not a wholly reliable witness". But the Sessions Court had given full value to this prime witness.

In August 2014, Mumbai Police stated in court that this particular case diary was missing in addition to other 55 of the 63 case related documents that were already missing. This can raise eyebrows, but probably it has less significance in the court of law.

Witnesses confirmed in the court of law that they witnessed the actor getting down from the car from driver's side. A witness, who is JW Mariott parking assistant, also confirmed that the Khan got behind the wheel of the SUV while leaving the hotel. The witnesses also mentioned that they had seen the actor falling down twice before running away to suggest drunkenness. The court analyzed this in juxtaposition with other evidence such as the FIR and Patil's statement which did not mention alcohol and rejected it.

Bala Shankar, the one who tested Khan's blood sample, told the court earlier that 62 mg of ethyl alcohol was found in Khan's blood sample, which was above the permissible limit and indicated that the actor had taken drinks before the mishap. But this evidence did not stand at the Bombay High Court as senior counsel for the actor, Amit Desai, argued that "the investigating agency was bent on collecting evidence to establish the charges of drunkenness and driving." And that the testimony of witnesses was "fabricated to suit the prosecution case of consumption of alcohol." The Court accepted this argument.

If Salman was not driving, then someone else was driving. The defense produced Ashok Singh as the person who was driving the car. Ashok said that he was driving that night and that the tyre had burst before the incident, and held that he was not a 'belated witness' as was the impression created by the prosecution and the media. The trial court had discarded Singh as a 'got up witness' but the HC said in criminal law it is the duty of the prosecution to establish its case completely and the onus is not on the defence to prove he didn't do it.

A simple hit and run case converted to a high profile case because of Khan's celebrity status. People have their own apprehensions whether celebrities ever come under the purview of law because of their power of money, muscle and connections. The acquittal of Salman may appear to many as the failure of justice and victory of money power over law of the land.

We will come to know later whether the prosecution will appeal in the Supreme Court or not. But as of now, Salman is a relieved man as far as this case is concerned.

Salman and court cases go hand in hand. On 17 February 2006, Khan was sentenced to one year in prison for hunting the Chinkara, an endangered species. The sentence was stayed by a higher court during appeal. On 10 April 2006, he was handed a five-year jail term and remanded to Jodhpur jail until 13 April when he was granted bail.

On 24 July 2012, Rajasthan High Court finalized charges against Salman Khan and his other colleagues in the endangered blackbuck killing case, paving way for start of the trial. On 9 July 2014, Supreme Court issued a notice to Salman on Rajasthan government's plea challenging the HC order suspending his conviction.

Indian judiciary believes in the motto that let ninety nine culprits escape the punishment, but an innocent should not be punished. Whether Salman is a culprit and escaped law is a different matter. But a man lost his life for no fault of his and his murderer is still roaming free is the harsh reality. 

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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