Mumbai,Urvi Mahajani: Just like his Friday movie releases bringing him luck, the Friday hearing in the Bombay high court too brought smile on Bollywood actor Salman Khan's face as the court not only suspended his five-year sentence but also granted him regular bail till his appeal is decided.
Justice Abhay Thipsay suspended the five-year rigorous imprisonment awarded by the trial court in the 2002 hit-and-run case while admitting his appeal against the conviction and granted him bail till the decision in his appeal.
Though the court proceedings were to begin at 11 am only, mediapersons and lawyers had crowded the court room by 10 am itself, anxious to know whether it would be bail or jail for the superstar. At one point, the police had to close the doors of the courtroom to ensure that the proceedings, once it begin, is not disturbed.
As soon as the judge took his chair on the dais, there was a pin-drop silence. However, during the proceedings there were some disturbances within the crowd for elbow space. The judge even reprimanded a journalist for trying to record the court proceedings.
The proceedings went on till 12.45 pm, with a packed courtroom hanging on to every word argued by the defence and prosecution counsels.
After granting of bail, justice Abhay Thipsay asked the actor to furnish fresh bail of Rs 30,000 before the sessions judge as the two-day bail granted on May 6 expired on Friday.
The HC also expedited the hearing in his appeal and kept it for hearing on June 15.
The court observed that it was no extra-ordinary case, and the appellant's (Khan's) status should not be a reason for him to be denied bail.
"This is not a case where I should keep him in jail till his appeal is heard and decided. Why his right should suffer when his appeal is admitted and kept pending? In many cases people have suffered and spent their entire prison term only to be acquitted later by the High Court," observed justice Thipsay.
The judge said in normal practice, while admitting appeal wherein the sentence is up to seven years of imprisonment, the sentence of the convict is kept under suspension.
"It is nobody's case that the appellant (Khan) is likely to abscond during the pendency of the case. There are a number of arguable points raised about whether or not Khan was driving the car, which need to be considered," observed justice Thipsay.
Khan's counsels – Amit Desai and Shrikant Shivade – had sought that the actor's sentence be suspended and he be granted regular bail till his appeal was decided.
The defence had claimed that there were four persons in the car and that Khan was not at the wheel, whereas the prosecution claimed that Khan was driving the car. Also, the defence claimed that the accident occurred as the tyre of the car burst, and that there were other loopholes in the prosecution case, as it failed to examine the other eye-witness, Khan's friend Kamaal Khan, who was also in the car on the fateful night.
Desai read out evidence of four witnesses, including the investigating officer, who had said there were four persons in the vehicle. Desai also argued that prosecution's sole eyewitness Ravindra Patil (Khan's then police bodyguard) was an "unwilling witness" and he was "forced" to give his evidence about Khan driving the car.
In an interview to a tabloid, a day after the accident, Patil had said there were four persons in the car, Desai pointed out. However, during the trial, he contradicted himself by saying there were only three persons.
However, public prosecutors Sandeep Shinde and Pradeep Gharat opposed the suspension of the sentence saying that it was not a fit case as Khan was convicted under section 304 (II) of the Indian Penal Code which is culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
Justice Thipsay asked the prosecution as to why was Khan's case different and that his sentence shouldn't be suspended. "Why he (Khan) should be made to suffer if the appeal was admitted? Things would be different if he had been in custody during the trial. Status quo, as far as possible, should be maintained."
Shinde countered that the exceptional circumstance was that Khan had the absolute knowledge of the fact that his act (of driving rashly under the influence of alcohol) could kill people. "He had the knowledge. Also there was high alcohol content in his blood when he was arrested. His alcohol level was 0.65 whereas the normal level is 0.30," said Shinde.
Shinde justified the prosecution not examining Kamaal Khan saying that he was a UK national and was not available during the trial.
He even refuted the defence claim that four persons were travelling in the vehicle. Shinde said the theory of Ashok Singh being at the wheel was introduced at the fag end of the trial when Khan made a statement under section 313 of CrPC and termed it as an "afterthought".
The judge even observed that it would have to go into the application of section 304(II) of the IPC which is culpable homicide not amounting to murder. "The question is whether it should be 304(II) or 304(A) [which is causing death by negligence]. If convicted under 304(A), he would not have been awarded five years," remarked justice Thipsay.
The judge said Khan's passport will remain with the investigating agency, and that he will have to take permission from the HC whenever he require to travel outside the country for shoot.