Two months after he walked free, it was time for yet another round of legal battle for Bollywood star Salman Khan with the Supreme Court on Friday commencing hearing of appeal filed by the Maharashtra government against his acquittal in the 2002 hit-and-run case.
The court asked questions on the statement of several witnesses to ascertain if the Bombay High Court disbelieved crucial depositions. “The judgment of the high court is a travesty of justice. Statements of injured victims were discarded, police witness disbelieved and a driver who surfaced after 13 years is believed by the high court,” Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi submitted before a bench headed by justice JS Khehar.
Referring to sequence of events and testimonies of some of the witnesses, Rohatgi said there was ample evidence that Salman was driving the vehicle and introduction of his driver Ashok Singh as the person, who was behind the wheels, was an afterthought that came to light after 13 years of the incident.
The AG said the evidence of Ravindra Patil, who was with Salman in the Toyota Land Cruiser as his bodyguard, was very much admissible and its rejection was wrong. Patil had said Salman was driving drunk and had ignored his warnings.
He died of tuberculosis in 2007 and when the high court examined his testimonies, it held the evidence was not admissible under law on the ground that he had not made the incriminating statements on the day FIR was lodged but two days later and there could be improvisation.
At this stage, Justice Khehar asked the AG: “When other prosecution witnesses were there, were they put to use? What did they say?” to which Rohatgi replied: “It is an important question, a very critical question.” AG pointed out the HC had refused to rely on statements of injured victims also.
The court also said it was important to know what various witnesses said on who drove the SUV.
The bench said for the time being it will not issue notice and since “it is a matter of appeal against acquittal”, it would like to hear the state government further on February 12.
Senior advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for Salman, said “the AG has told a very good story on the accident” and he also has a lot to say to counter this.
In its appeal, the Maharashtra government urged the SC to set aside the acquittal order. It disputed HC’s observation that the investigation was conducted in a careless and faulty manner, claiming that there were many witnesses who corroborated the charges against Salman adequately.
While acquitting Salman of all charges, the Bombay HC had on December 10 observed “strong suspicion of guilt cannot be used to hold a person guilty”. Overturning the order of a lower court, which had in May convicted the actor under charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and sentenced him to a jail term of five years, Justice AR Joshi said this was “not a case where prosecution has successfully established its case of all its charges”.