Supreme Court on Tuesday 15 May 2018 held Punjab Tourism Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu guilty in a 1988 road rage case. The cricketer-turned-politician was convicted under Section 323 IPC (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) which entails a maximum prison sentence for up to one year or with a fine which may extend to Rs. 1,000 or both.
Facts of the case
On 27 December 1988, Navjot Singh Sidhu and his aide Rupinder Singh Sandhu had illegally parked their Gypsy in the middle of a road near the Sheranwala Gate Crossing in Patiala, Punjab during the day. Gurnam Singh, the victim, in this case, had come along with his friends at this time, driving a Maruti car, on his way to the bank and found the road blocked by Sidhu’s car. He asked Sidhu and Sandhu to move the car so that he could pass. This topic of conversation led to heated verbal exchanges and Mr. Sidhu had hit the 65-year-old Gurnam Singh who collapsed suddenly. He was then taken to a hospital but was declared dead on arrival.
Subsequently, both Mr. Sidhu and his companion were arrested for road rage, use of excessive force and they were booked on murder charges. The trial court found the then BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) leader, Mr. Sidhu not guilty on murder charges and set him free in September 1999. But a revision petition was lodged on April 12, 2000, by the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government at the Punjab and Haryana High Court where the counsel for the state government claimed, “Sidhu had given fist blow to deceased Gurnam Singh leading to his death through brain haemorrhage.”
The High Court after reviewing the trial court’s verdict (the victim had died of cardiac arrest and not brain haemorrhage) held that the lower court’s verdict was erroneous and convicted both Sidhu and Sandhu under Section 304 (II) IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). Both were sentenced to three-year jail and was imposed a fine of Rs one lakh each by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in December 2006. The Apex Court later in 2007 stayed the conviction of Mr. Sidhu and his aide (Sandhu) thus, allowing him to contest in the by-poll for Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.
The case came up for trial in the Supreme Court based on a petition filed by Mr. Sidhu’s counsel R S Cheema where Senior advocate Cheema argued, “the evidence brought on record was obscure, indefinite and also contradictory.” He further pointed out that the medical opinion as to the cause of death is vague, stating “the most baffling and disturbing issue in the case is what we have on record with regard to the cause of death.”
Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul of the Supreme Court were presented with the case. They went over both the trial court’s and the High Court’s verdicts and convicted Sidhu in the 30-year-old case of “voluntarily hurting” the deceased in the 1988 roadside brawl. The Court, however, held that the accused (Sidhu) was convicted under Section 323 IPC (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and not under Section 304 (II) IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder). Rupinder Singh Sandhu was exonerated of all charges in this case by the Supreme Court.
The verdict stated that given that it was a 30-year-old case, and prior to the incident the victim and the perpetrators were strangers with no enmity between them the punishment should befit the crime. The punishment under Section 323 IPC for the charges against Mr. Sidhu is maximum up to one year in jail or a fine of Rs. 1,000 or both. But the Apex Court ruled “a fine of Rs 1,000 would meet the ends of justice in this case.”
Impact of the Supreme Court verdict
A visibly elated Mr. Sidhu thanked the Almighty God and his Congress Party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi as this judgment allowed him to hold onto his ministerial post in the Punjab government. Once again the Supreme Court’s judgment upholds our Constitutional mandates of equality and justice in our democratic process of governance. Amarinder Singh‘s tweet, “law has duly taken its course” beautifully sums up the impact of the verdict in this case.