Salman's hit-and-run saga

Salman's hit-and-run saga
Bollywood actor Salman Khan has been convicted and sentenced to five years’ rigorous imprisonment by the Mumbai Sessions Court and is currently on a bail granted by the Bombay High Court.

But the case has raised several questions, answered some of them and went through ups and downs in the last 13 years.  For the 49-year-old actor hero, also called ‘Bhai’ - who has acted in more than 150 films, several of them are blockbusters – it is not over just yet. The case is significant as Salman Khan has been convicted and sentenced under Section 304, Part II of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

On September 28, 2002, Salman Khan, then 36, reportedly in a drunken state, lost control of his Toyata Land Cruiser Lexus and rammed it to the pavements of the American Express Laundry-A1 Bakery at the Hill Road-St Andrews Road junction in Mumbai killing  one Nurullah Mehboob Sharif and injuring four others - Kalim Mohammed Pathan, Munna Malai Khan, Abdullah Rauf Shaikh and Muslim Shaikh. 

On September 27, Salman, Kamaal Khan, a singer and family friend, and police constable Ravindra Patil, left the actor’s Galaxy Apartments residence at Bandra seaface – with the actor in the wheels – for Rain Bar at Juhu. In another vehicle, his brother Sohail Khan, his bodyguard Balu Laxman Muthe and fashion designer Vikram Phadnis reached the popular nightclub, frequented by them. Sohail and others returned post midnight on September 28. On return, Salman went to the JW Marriot Hotel and was driving back when the incident took place.

There were several questions that the issue saw – was Salman driving the car or not? Whether the actor had consumed liquor? Whether he was driving rashly? Whether he ignored the warnings? Practically, on every ground, the actor’s contention was rejected by the trial court.

However, the climax of the case was on March 27, 2015, when Khan appeared before additional sessions judge D W Deshpande and denied that he was driving the car. The very next day, Ashok Singh, a driver of Salim Khan and family, claimed that he (Singh) was the one who was driving the car and it veered off the road because of a tyre burst.

Delivering the verdict on May 6, 2015, Judge Deshpande, who convicted the actor, remarked, “All charges against you are proved.” The judge virtually rejected all the contentions that Salman had made – including the claims of driver Ashok Singh. He described Singh as a “got up” witness. There were 27 prosecution witnesses and one defence witness.  In the 240-page verdict, he said: “….so considering all angles of the case, going through the ocular, documentary and expert evidence minutely and after hearing the arguments of special public prosecutor and defence counsels at length, I conclude that the offence u/s 304 (II) of IPC is made out against the accused as Nurulla died because of the dash of the vehicle.”

Rejecting the defence that Salman was not driving rashly, he said: “Accused drove the vehicle in a rash and negligent manner and under influence of the liquor, caused death of Nurulla and also caused grievous hurt to Mohammed Abdulla Shaikh and Muslim Shaikh and caused simple injuries to Mannu Khan and Mohd Kalim Pathan. Accused being resident of the same area was having the knowledge that injured used to sleep in front of American Express Laundry.”

He also upheld the prosecution charge that the actor did not have driving licence and liquor permit. “There was alcohol noticed to the extent of 0.062 per cent mg, which is exceeding 30 mg per 100 ml,” he stated.

Fleeing the scene?

The 13 year Salman saga - from September 28, 2002 to May 6, 2015 – had not been easy for anybody. What initially happened that Salman vanished from the scene only to be arrested by the Bandra police station a day later, but was given bail? Following an outcry, the actor was booked which he later challenged till the Supreme Court. “It was a clear case of drunken driving and hit-and-run. He was drunk and he fled the scene not caring for the people there,” says former Mumbai Police commissioner M N Singh, who was at the helm of affairs at that point of time. Salman reportedly took the help of Francis Fernandes, who has a house nearby accident spot, to flee from the scene.

The complainant was Ravindra Patil, on whose statement, the FIR was taken and it was he who said that the actor was drunk, was driving rashly and had ignored his warnings. This was enough to invoke Section 304, Part II IPC, for the police.  After that, it was a big job to track down the witness and make a water-tight case. Patil died of TB in 2007.

 Following Patil’s statement, the main task was to locate Kamaal Khan, who was found in Versova a few days later and his statement was recorded. Kamaal is a friend of the actor and also a distant relative and he is best known for his famous 1995 song – ‘O Oh Jaane Jaana’ from Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, Salman’s first block buster. Kamaal had also acted in a movie Jo Bole So Nihaal – in which he was paired alongside Sunny Deol. “In his statement, he has said that there were three persons in the car, Salman, Kamaal himself and Ravindra Patil…he is a star witness, why he was dropped,” says activist-lawyer Abha Singh, demanding that a red-corner notice be issued to locate the singer. 

However, special public prosecutor Pradeep Gharat points out that it would not have served any purpose. “We are told that he is a UK citizen and stays in London. Getting him here would not have been easy. It would have further delayed the trial. Moreover, he is a friend of the accused…what is the guarantee that he would have stood by his statement,” he said.
Amidst ups and downs – first the trial in the Magistrate’s court in Bandra and then in the Mumbai Sessions Court, it has been a long and eventful journey. “We had a proper case and we were confident about conviction,” says Rajendra Kane, police inspector who is the current investigating officer in the case.

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