The Supreme Court on Tuesday acquitted former cricketer and Punjab Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu from culpable homicide charge in a 30-year-old road rage case for which he had been awarded a three-year jail term.
A bench of Justice J. Chelameswar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul acquitted Sidhu of culpable homicide not amounting to murder charges but convicted him for causing simple injury and imposed a fine of Rs 1,000 without any jail term.
The court also acquitted the other accused, his cousin Rupinder Singh Sandhu, of all charges.
In its judgment, the bench said: "No doubt that there are lapses in the investigation. We cannot hazard a guess whether such lapses occurred because of the general inefficiency of the system or as a consequence of a concerted effort made to protect the accused. The law of this country is not that people are convicted of offences on the basis of doubts."
Setting aside the Punjab and Haryana High Court verdict which had convicted Sidhu and awarded three-year jail term, the apex court said: "... the first accused cannot be held to be responsible for causing the death of Gurnam Singh. Therefore, the judgment under appeal is required to be set aside and is accordingly set aside. The material on record leads us to the only possible conclusion that we can reach that the first accused voluntarily caused hurt to Gurnam Singh punishable under Section 323 IPC."
Section 323 (voluntary causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code stipulates a punishment of imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to Rs 1,000 or both.
The bench refused to award jail term to Sidhu and only imposed the fine of Rs 1,000 on him, while considering that the "case is 30 years old, there is no past enmity between the accused and the deceased, no weapon was used by the accused and the background in which it happened".
"We are of the opinion, a punishment of imposition of fine of Rs 1,000 would meet the ends of justice in this case," it added.
The incident dates to December 27, 1988, when Sidhu and his cousin had beaten up Gurnam Singh and two others in what was described as a road rage case. Gurnam Singh later died.
On April 12 this year, the Punjab government supported the decision of the Punjab and Haryana High Court convicting the Minister. It told the apex court that the 65-year-old victim had died after a fist blow from the cricketer-turned-politician.
The state had said there was no evidence at all to suggest that Gurnam Singh died due to cardiac arrest and not brain haemorrhage.
In 1999, the trial court in Patiala had acquitted Sidhu and his cousin, saying the medical report stated that the death was due to a heart attack.
The High Court in December 2006 had overturned the lower court's decision. It had said that Gurnam Singh did not die of cardiac arrest but due to the injury on his temporal lobe. Sidhu was awarded three years in jail for culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
The apex court in 2007 stayed the conviction after counsel appearing for Sidhu had contended that the findings of the High Court were based on opinions and not medical evidence.
Sidhu's lawyer had argued that there were deficiencies in the medical evidence and the prosecution witnesses had given different statements on oath before the trial court.
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