SC reopens 1988 road rage case against Navjot Singh Sidhu
Agrees to hear review plea of Patiala victim’s kin, sends notice to Punjab minister.
Fresh trouble appears to be brewing for former cricketer-turned-politician and Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu.
The Supreme Court has agreed to entertain a petition seeking review of its May 15 verdict that let off Sidhu with Rs 1,000 fine in a 1988 road rage case in which a Patiala resident Gurnam Singh died, saying there was no sufficient evidence to prove the harsher charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against him.
A bench of justices AM Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul issued notice to Sidhu on Tuesday on the petition filed by the victim’s family. The formal order, uploaded on the SC website on Wednesday, however, says the notice is restricted to the quantum of sentence qua Sidhu only. Sidhu refused to comment on ‘reopening’ of the case.
The May 15 verdict brought relief to Sidhu as it enabled him to continue as a minister in the Capt Amarinder Singh-led Congress government. “I am disappointed, but the family has accepted the decision as God’s will” was how Narvedinder Singh, Gurnam’s son, had reacted following the SC order that spared Sidhu any jail time.
Earlier, a bench of justices J Chelameswar (since retired) and Kaul had set aside the Punjab and Haryana high court verdict convicting Sidhu of culpable homicide not amounting to murder and had awarded him three-year jail. After examining all evidence, including medical record, the top court concluded that Sidhu was wrongly convicted.
The former cricketer was, however, punished under section 323 of the Indian Penal Code for voluntary causing hurt.
Although section 323 IPC says that a person found guilty be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one year, or with fine which may extend to Rs 1000, or with both, the top court let off Sidhu with just the fine.
In support of its lenient view, the court said the case was more than 30 years old and there was no past enmity between the accused and the victim. What also weighed in the court’s mind was that background in which the incident took place and that no weapon was used by the accused.
On December 27, 1988, Sidhu and his friend - Rupinder Singh Sandhu - had got into an argument with Gurnam over parking space in Patiala. The two allegedly dragged Gurnam out of his car and hit him. Gurnam later died. Sidhu was discharged by the trial court but the HC in 2006 held him guilty.
A year later, the SC on Sidhu’s appeal, stayed the sentence and granted him bail, enabling him to contest the Lok Sabha bypolls from Amritsar.
The case so far
Dec 27, 1988: Sidhu and his friend Rupinder Singh Sandhu allegedly beat up Patiala resident Gurnam Singh over right of way for his car. Gurnam taken to a hospital where he is declared dead. Sidhu and friend booked.
Sept 1999: Patiala district and sessions court acquits Sidhu and others of murder charges, citing lack of evidence.
2002: Punjab govt files appeal against acquittal.
Dec 1, 2006: Punjab and Haryana HC finds Sidhu and Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide (not amounting to murder) and awards a three-year jail term. Sidhu resigns as BJP MP from Amritsar.
Jan 11, 2007: Sidhu surrenders in court.
Jan 12, 2007: Arun Jaitley appears as Sidhu’s lawyer in SC, which stays the conviction; Sidhu and friend released on bail. Thereafter, Sidhu wins bypoll to become Amritsar MP for the second time on BJP ticket. The complainant then approaches SC against Sidhu.
Dec 2017-Mar 2018: Sidhu quits BJP and joins Congress; wins assembly election, becomes a minister in Punjab govt.
April 12, 2018: During hearing of the appeal, Punjab govt seeks Sidhu’s conviction in SC.
May 15, 2018: Sidhu acquitted of charges of culpable homicide, but fined ₹1,000 for causing hurt to Gurdev Singh. Sandhu acquitted.
Sep 12, 2018: SC agrees to hear review petition.
First Published: Sep 12, 2018 21:04:20