In a major relief to cricketer-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Supreme Court today set aside a Punjab and Haryana High Court order convicting him of culpable homicide and awarding him three-years jail term in a 30-year old road rage case, but held him guilty of causing hurt to a senior citizen.
The top court, however, held Sidhu, the Punjab Tourism Minister, guilty of minor offence of "voluntarily causing hurt" to a 65-year-old man but spared him of a jail term and imposed a fine of Rs 1000.
Despite conviction, Sidhu will not be barred from electoral politics under the Representation of the People Act as the offence under section 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) of the IPC does not fall under the scheduled offence entailing disqualification.
Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of IPC entails a maximum jail term up to one year or with a fine which may extend to Rs 1,000 or both.
A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul, while allowing the appeals of Sidhu and Sandhu, said 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 said.
"It all started with a dispute regarding the right of way resulting in a brawl between them, a very common sight in this country," the bench said and noted that some verbal exchanges took place between Sidhu and the deceased.
The top court held that there were lapses in the investigation but said a person cannot be convicted on basis of doubts.
"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," the bench said.
With regard to a CD brought on record by the relatives of deceased in which Sidhu had purportedly made some statements about the incident, the bench said all that is 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.
Dealing with the medical evidence, the bench said neither any specific details regarding the volume of the subdural hemorrhage are available on record, nor any medical opinion that this hemorrhage had caused compression of the brain that caused the death.
"Such being the evidence on record, the conclusion of the High Court that Gurnam Singh's death is caused by subdural hemorrhage but not cardiac arrest, in our opinion, is not based on any evidence on record and is a pure conjecture. We therefore find it difficult to sustain the conviction of the first accused and set aside the same," the bench said.
The court said the material on record leads to the only possible conclusion that Sidhu had voluntarily caused hurt to Gurnam Singh, that is punishable under Section 323 of IPC.
Considering that the incident is 30 years old and no weapon was used by the accused in the case, the bench said a fine of Rs 1000 would meet the ends of justice in the case.
The apex court's verdict came on the appeal filed by Sidhu, who had quit the BJP and joined the Congress days before the Punjab Assembly elections last year, and Sandhu, challenging the high court's 2006 judgment convicting them.
According to 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, when the victim and two others were on their way to the bank to withdraw money.
When they reached the crossing, it was alleged, 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. Sidhu was acquitted of the murder charges by the trial court in September 1999.
However, the high court had reversed the verdict and held Sidhu and Sandhu guilty under Section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC in December 2006. It had sentenced them to three years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on the convicts.
In 2007, the apex court stayed the conviction of Sidhu and Sandhu in the case, paving the way for him to contest the by-poll for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.
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