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Hit-&-run case: SC admits appeal against Salman’s acquittal

Actress Preity Zinta's wedding reception

New Delhi : Supreme Court today admitted for final hearing the appeal of Maharashtra government challenging the acquittal of Bollywood superstar Salman Khan in the 2002 hit-and-run case, but refused to fast-track the proceedings.

“Leave granted. Petition is admitted for final hearing,” a bench of Justices J S Khehar and Arun Mishra said.

The apex court, however, did not allow the submission of Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Maharashtra, that the appeal be fixed for final hearing after six weeks as the matter is nearly 15 years old.

“We cannot put on fast track the hearing just because X, Y, Z is involved. We have to deal with so many important matters,” the court said, adding that it may hear the appeal if the Chief Justice of India issues a direction.

During the hearing, senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is representing the super star, said he has instructions that the matter be “decided on merits”.

Meanwhile, the bench also agreed to hear a separate plea filed by senior advocate Pandit Parmanand Katara challenging Bombay High Court’s order on the ground that a revision petition, instead of an appeal, should have been filed there.

Katara further said that the plea before the apex court was not maintainable due to alleged non-observance of the legal procedure.

The court, however, refused urgent hearing on the plea and said it would consider the matter later.

The bench got irked when the lawyer insisted for an urgent hearing of his plea ahead of the petition filed by Maharashtra government saying, “are you arguing for the Press or for yourself. If you want to argue for the Press, then we are not interested.”

Earlier, the apex court on February 19, had issued notice to the actor on appeal of the state government in the case saying that exoneration from the top court would “vindicate him once and for all”.

Subsequently, another petition was filed by one Firoz Shaikh on behalf of the family members of a person who was killed in the 2002 hit-and-run case.

The plea had sought setting aside of the high court judgement and a direction to the 50-year-old actor to pay compensation to the wife and son of deceased Shaikh Noorulla Shaifik.

Maharashtra had said that the Bombay High Court had erred on two points while acquitting the filmstar.

“Firstly, the High Court had erred in its finding by holding that there was ‘erroneous application’ of Section 33 of Evidence Act (relevancy of certain evidence for proving, in subsequent proceeding, the truth of facts therein stated) by the trial court,” the Attorney General had said.

On second count, he had said the High Court had erred by holding that the prosecution witness Ravindra Patil, a constable who was guarding the actor and had first called the police, was not a “wholly reliable witness” and his version needed corroboration with accounts of other witnesses.

The Maharashtra government’s appeal contained 47 grounds to assail the high court’s verdict and sought restoration of the trial court’s decision by which the 50-year-old actor was convicted and sentenced to five-year-jail term.

Among other grounds, the petition said, “High Court has erred in brushing aside the alcohol examination certificate and the evidence of the assistant chemical analyzer just because there was some alleged delay in taking the blood samples and for sending it to the chemical analyzer.”

The high court, in its verdict passed on December 10 last year, had held that prosecution had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the actor was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident and was drunk.

The high court judgement had come on an appeal by the superstar, seven months after he was pronounced guilty by trial court of running over five people sleeping on a pavement outside a laundry in suburban Bandra with his Toyota Land Cruiser, killing one and causing injury to four others.

On May 6 last year, a sessions court had convicted Salman in the case.

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