While acquitting Punjab Minister and former Cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu in a culpable homicide case, the Supreme Court today raised a question mark on the Punjab police investigation in the case. “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” said A bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul while highlighting lapses in the Punjab Police investigation in the case.
The Apex Court said that the entire case is sought to be built upon the lapses in the investigation process and the conduct of the accused in securing the anticipatory bail within few days of the incident and the decision of the State initially not to Sidhu.
Giving details, the Supreme Court further said the various other factors sought to be relied upon by the de facto complainant pertain to certain deficiencies in the process of the investigation such as the non-seizure of the vehicle by which deceased and others were traveling. In addition to it, the disinclination of the state to array Sidhu as the accused in the Sessions case either by design or otherwise make no difference to the conclusion that the first accused cannot be held to be responsible for the death of Gurnam Singh in view of the medical evidence. The complainant also calls upon this Court to believe that in view of the celebrity status of the first accused, the State went out of its way to shield his crime. Therefore, the first accused must be held to have caused the death of Gurnam Singh.
While talking about CD carrying an Interview of Sidhu as evidence in the case, the Supreme Court said that we must also mention here that the complainant prayed that the content of a CD be received as additional evidence, along with the CD allegedly containing some interview given by Sidhu to some TV channel. The said CD is said to contain certain statements which would go in the opinion of the de facto complainant to prove the guilt of the accused.
“In our opinion, all that is avoidable for the reason: even if it is assumed that the first accused admitted to his participation in the occurrence, (a fact which we have already concluded independent of his own confession alleged in the TV show) in the light of the medical evidence on record, he cannot be held guilty of causing the death of Gurnam Singh. We, therefore, see no reason to entertain the application. Such admissions, if any do not help improve the case of the complainant” the Supreme Court further said.
“The net result of all the above discussion is that Sidhu cannot be held to be responsible for causing the death of Gurnam Singh. Therefore, the judgment under appeal is required to be set aside and is accordingly set aside. The material on record leads us to the only possible conclusion that we can reach that the first accused voluntarily caused hurt to Gurnam Singh punishable under Section 323 IPC” the Supreme Court said.
The court further said that the next question is what would be the appropriate punishment for such an offence. Section 323 IPC stipulates a punishment of 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. In the circumstances of the case having regard to the facts that (i) the incident is 30 years old (ii) there is no past enmity between the accused and the deceased (iii) no weapon was used by the accused and (iv) the background in which it happened, we are of the opinion, a punishment of imposition of fine of Rs.1000/ would meet the ends of justice in this case. In view of the foregoing, we allow the appeals of the accused as indicated above and dismiss the appeal of the complainant.
Going into a background of the case, around 1.45 pm on December 27, 1988, the FIR was registered by SubInspector Kaka Singh of Police Station “Kotwali” of Patiala district of Punjab acting on the statement of Jaswinder Singh. According to the FIR, around 12.30 pm, an incident occurred at the traffic light of Battian Wala Chowk in front of the State Bank of Patiala, Patiala City. The incident took place when the three Jaswinder Singh, Avtar Singh, and Gurnam Singh were travelling in Maruti Car No.CH I 8422. Gurnam Singh was driving the car. While Sidhu and his associate were travelling by vehicle No.PAD 6030. After a dispute between Sidhu and Gurnam Singh, Sidhu move out of his vehicle pulled Gurnam Singh out of his vehicle and inflicted first blows. When Jaswinder Singh tried to intervene, the second accused also move out of the vehicle and gave fist blows to him. The accused took the car’s key and fled away from the scene of occurrence. Thereafter Jaswinder Singh, Avtar Singh took Gurnam Singh who was “in a state of unconsciousness” by a rickshaw to Rajendra Hospital where the doctors announced that Gurnam Singh was dead.