New Delhi: The Supreme Court Friday asked Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu to file response within two weeks on an application which has said that his conviction in an over 32-year-old road rage case should not have been merely for the lesser offence of voluntarily causing hurt.
The apex court was hearing a matter pertaining to review of sentence awarded by it in May 2018 to the cricketer-turned-politician in the 1988 road rage case.
Though the top court had in May 2018 held Sidhu guilty of the offence of “voluntarily causing hurt” to a 65-year-old man, it spared him of a jail term and imposed a fine of Rs 1,000.
Later in September 2018, the apex court agreed to examine a review petition filed by the family members of the deceased and had issued notice, restricted to the quantum of sentence.
The matter came up for hearing before a bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and S K Kaul.
Senior advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing for one of the petitioners, said they have moved an application seeking enlargement of scope of the notice.
He referred to an earlier judgement of the apex court and said there was a clear determination that person who causes death cannot and ought not be punished for an offence in the category of hurt.
“In this case, your lordships have been pleased to reduce the conviction to 323 (section 323 of IPC) and fine,” he said, adding that the issue merits consideration by the apex court.
Section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) of the Indian Penal Code entails a maximum jail term of up to one year or with a fine which may extend to Rs 1,000 or both.
The fact regarding death of the victim in this case is not in dispute, Luthra said, adding that he was seeking indulgence of the bench to enlarge the scope of notice.
Senior advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for Sidhu who is the Punjab Congress President, said that notice issued by the court on the review petition was restricted to quantum of sentence only.
“My friend is trying to enlarge the scope of the review today and he is assailing the merits of the judgement,” Chidambaram said.
Arguing that the scope should not be enlarged at this stage, he said the apex court had in its May 2018 judgement concluded that the case fell under section 323 of the IPC.
“Mr Chidambaram, notice was issued on September 11, 2018 by circulation. It was not after hearing the parties,” the bench said, adding, “Now, he has filed a formal application. We need to deal with it also.”
The bench observed that the whole matter is not required to be heard again but it will have to deal with the application filed by the petitioner.
“He is pressing the application therefore you will have to address us on the issue,” the bench told Chidambaram.
Chidambaram said the application was served upon him on Thursday.
“He (Luthra) is saying the nature of offence would not be 323 (section 323 of IPC) and it will be something different..,” the bench said.
Chidambaram said it will mean re-opening the entire judgement in the matter.
“We have to consider his application in which case, the nature of offence and conviction, these two issues may be open,” the bench said.
The top court said it is not disturbing the factual finding, which was arrived at by the apex court, but it will deal with Luthra’s submission as to whether on the basis of that factual finding whether an offence is made out under 323 of the IPC or under any other provision.
When Luthra said the finding regarding death due to cardiac arrest was not correct, the bench observed, “Then why should he not argue that he is entitled to acquittal”.
“It cannot be an unending kind of a scenario,” the bench said.
“You file your response, we will consider all the aspects. Whether the application needs to be entertained is the first question which will have to be examined,” the bench told Chidambaram.
The bench granted two weeks to file response on the application and posted the matter for hearing after two weeks.
The apex court had on May 15, 2018, set aside the Punjab and Haryana High Court order convicting Sidhu of culpable homicide and awarding him a three-year jail term in the case, but had held him guilty of causing hurt to a senior citizen.
The top court had also acquitted Sidhu’s aide Rupinder Singh Sandhu of all charges saying there was no trustworthy evidence regarding his presence along with Sidhu at the time of the offence in December 1988.
Later in September 2018, the apex court had agreed to examine a review petition filed by the family members of the deceased.
The apex court’s May 2018 verdict had come on the appeal filed by Sidhu and Sandhu challenging the high court’s 2006 judgment convicting them.
According to the prosecution, Sidhu and Sandhu were in a Gypsy parked in the middle of a road near the Sheranwala Gate Crossing in Patiala on December 27, 1988, when the victim and two others were on their way to the bank to withdraw money.
When they reached the crossing, it was alleged, Gurnam Singh, driving a Maruti car, found the Gypsy in the middle of the road and asked the occupants, Sidhu and Sandhu, to remove it. This led to heated exchanges.
Sidhu was acquitted of murder charges by the trial court in September 1999.
However, the high court had reversed the verdict and held Sidhu and Sandhu guilty under section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of the IPC in December 2006.
It had sentenced them to three years in jail and imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on them.