The Supreme Court on Thursday awarded one year’s rigorous imprisonment to Punjab Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu in a 34-year-old fatal road rage case.
A Special Bench of Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul reviewed the apex court’s May 2018 judgment, which had let off Mr. Sidhu with a fine of ₹1,000 saying such roadside brawls were a “very common sight in this country”.
The decision came in a review petition filed by the family of the victim, Gurnam Singh, who died in the road rage incident in 1988.
The Punjab and Haryana High Court had found Mr. Sidhu guilty of committing culpable homicide not amounting to murder. In appeal, the apex court, four years ago, had set aside the High Court verdict. The top court had held him guilty of the lesser offence of causing voluntary hurt.
Justice Kaul, reading out the judgment, said the court felt, on the basis of the facts placed before it, that it would have to review the judgment in terms of sentence.
The Review Bench held that it would serve the ends of justice to sentence Mr. Sidhu to a period of one-year rigorous imprisonment in addition to the earlier award of a fine of ₹1,000.
The case had returned to haunt Mr. Sidhu after over three decades, especially when the family of the victim upped the ante by filing an application contending that the facts of the case show he was responsible for causing more than hurt but was actually liable for far more grievous offences like culpable homicide or even murder.
Mr. Singh’s family had filed for a review of the judgment in 2018 itself. The court had issued a formal notice to Mr. Sidhu, represented by senior advocate A.M. Singhvi and advocate Karthik Ashok, specifically on the quantum of sentence, in September 2018.
During the hearing of the case, the court had observed that if the facts ultimately show a different offence, the punishment would also change.
Senior advocate Siddarth Luthra, for Mr. Singh’s family, had said the apex court’s own judgment proved, “the fact of the injury caused to the victim, the fact that the injury was caused ante-mortem, and the fact that it was caused intentionally by the respondent [Mr. Sidhu]“.
Mr. Luthra had argued that “when there is death of a human being, it may either be culpable homicide (amounting or not amounting to murder)... Offences affecting life are distinct from the offence of hurt. If hurt results in death, intended or unintended, the offence would fall within the category of an offence affecting life”.
Countering, Mr. Singhvi and advocate A. Karthik had said the family’s application, on top of filing for a review petition against the May 2018 judgment, was a “review of a review”. Entertaining the application would give rise to a dangerous precedent.
The senior lawyer had argued that the prosecution could not prove any personal enmity or motive behind the death. It was even “highly doubtful” whether the injury had eventually caused the death. Besides, Mr. Sidhu had never violated any conditions of bail and there was no lack of cooperation on his part at any time during the entire journey of 34 years of the case.