In what came as a surprise to many, the Supreme Court on Tuesday held Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu guilty in a road rage case where the victim had lost his life, however, the former was off with an imposition of a minor fine of Rs 1,000.
Though he was ‘convicted’, the verdict came as a major relief to cricketer-politician as the top court set aside an earlier order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, convicting him of culpable homicide and awarding him three-years jail term in a 30-year old road rage case. The court only convicted Sidhu for causing hurt to a senior citizen.
Sidhu, the Punjab Tourism Minister, was held guilty of the minor offence of “voluntarily causing hurt”. As per the law, Sidhu could have been awarded a jail term, but was spared after imposition of a fine of Rs 1,000.
Sidhu’s accomplice, Rupinder Singh Sandhu, was also acquitted of all charges as the court held that there was no trustworthy evidence regarding his presence at the time of the offence.
The verdict meant that Sidhu will not be barred from electoral politics under the Representation of the People Act as the offence under section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) doesn’t amount disqualification of a public representative.
Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of IPC entails a maximum jail term up to one year. The bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul held that the medical evidence was “absolutely uncertain” regarding the cause of death of victim Gurnam Singh.
“We find it difficult to sustain the conviction of the first accused (Sidhu) and set aside the same. Because to find a man guilty of culpable homicide, the basic fact required to be established is that the accused caused the death. But, as noticed, the medical evidence is absolutely uncertain regarding the cause of death of Gurnam Singh,” the bench was quoted as saying by the court.
Further, the court said that only fact established on evidence was that Sidhu gave a single fist blow on the head of the deceased Gurnam Singh, but no weapon was used. Also, there was no enmity between the victim and the accused, it observed.
Earlier, the relative of the deceased had brought to court a CD in which Sidhu had purportedly accepted his involvement in the case. However, the bench observed that CD was avoidable for the reason that even if it is assumed that Sidhu admitted to his participation in the occurrence, but in the light of the medical evidence on record, he cannot be held guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh.
As per charges made by the prosecution, Sidhu and Sandhu were in a Gypsy parked in the middle of a road near the Sheranwala Gate Crossing in Patiala on December 27, 1988. At the same time, the victim and two others were on their way to the bank to withdraw money. As per the allegations, Gurnam Singh, driving a Maruti car, found the Gypsy in the middle of the road and asked the occupants, Sidhu and Sandhu, to remove it.
This led to heated exchanges and Sidhu delivered a blow to Gurnam, 65. Later, Sidhu was acquitted of the murder charges by the trial court in September 1999. In 2006, Punjab and Haryana High Court reversed the verdict and held Sidhu and Sandhu guilty under Section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). The court sentenced Sidhu and Sangram to three years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on the convicts.