Mumbai: Actor Salman Khan had knowledge that his act of rash driving would result in death or injuries to people, a Magistrate observed while charging him with a more serious offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in a decade-old hit-and-run case. Salman was warned by his police bodyguard Ravindra Patil not to drive at a speed of 90 to 100 km per hour as there was a turning ahead or else the vehicle would meet with accident but he did not pay heed to his advice, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate VS Patil noted last week in his order, a copy of which was made available on Thursday.
Salman's lawyer Dipesh Mehta said that the actor would challenge the order, given on a Maharashtra government plea, in the Bombay High Court soon. On the night of September 28, 2002, Salman had allegedly rammed his Toyota Land Cruiser into a roadside bakery at suburban Bandra, killing one person and injuring four others who were sleeping on the pavement. The 47-year-old was earlier charged under IPC Section 304A (rash and negligent driving) which attracts two years of imprisonment and is tried by a Magistrate. Now he has been charged under IPC Section 304 part II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), for which maximum jail term is 10 years. The Magistrate, in his order on January 31, said the actor was under the influence of liquor, according to reports of pathological tests.
The court disagreed with Salman's argument that he had no knowledge that there would be an accident and people would die if he drove at a fast speed. On the contrary, the actor had knowledge about this because he stays in the vicinity and knows the topography of the place, the Magistrate noted. The Magistrate rejected Salman's contention that at the relevant time it was dark and the accident was not intentional but an act of God. He reiterated the actor had knowledge that he would meet with accident if he drove at high speed because he was warned by the police bodyguard who was sitting next to him in the ill-fated car.
The Magistrate in his order noted that Salman knew the topography of the area and was warned by his police bodyguard to not drive at a high speed.
Salman argued that the court cannot alter the charge on the basis of an application made by the prosecution. The Magistrate, however, felt that the court can any time alter the charge before the trial concludes. In this case, the Magistrate pointed out, prosecution had only drawn the court's attention to the evidence adduced by it to show that charge of 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' was made out against the accused. Ultimately, it was the court's decision to invoke this charge on the basis of evidence tabled before it.
Interestingly, this is the second time that Salman is being tried under the stringent provision of IPC. Earlier too, the Magistrate had charged with him with the same offence and referred the case to Sessions Court for trial. The actor had challenged application of this charge in the Sessions Court which rejected his plea. He had then moved the Bombay High Court which ruled that the charge of 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' would not apply in the case.
The Maharashtra government approached the Supreme Court, which set aside the order of both Sessions Court and High Court. "But we make it very clear that at any appropriate stage if the Magistrate comes to the conclusion that there is
sufficient material to charge the accused with a more serious offence than the one punishable u/s 304(A), he shall proceed to do so.
"As such decision of the Magistrate shall be purely based on the material brought in evidence at the time of trial," the apex court had observed. Acting on a prosecution plea, the Magistrate last week slapped the charge of 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' on the actor and referred the case to Sessions Court for trial.