Homicide punch amid hit parade

Mumbai, Jan. 31: Salman Khan, enjoying a dream run as Bollywood's most bankable actor, will be tried for culpable homicide not amounting to murder in a case of alleged hit and run.

The 2002 incident, in which one person died and four were injured, was so far proceeding under the charge of rash and negligent driving which carries a maximum punishment of two years in jail. The punishment under the new charge can go up to 10 years in prison.

The year 2002 was one of the worst in Salman's personal life, marked by a series of events, including a messy break-up with Aishwarya Rai, that sealed his image as the "bad boy" of Bollywood.

Since then, in one of the most incredible bouncebacks in movie history, Salman has delivered one smash hit after another, drawing on a testosterone-driven formula of explosive muscle power, rip-roaring one-liners, improbable action scenes and grey characters whose personae carried a whiff of his own black sheep image.

Last year, Independence Day release Ek Tha Tiger became the second biggest grosser ever in Bollywood, scooping up Rs 200 crore, while Christmas week release Dabangg 2 has raked in well over Rs 100 crore. At 47, he is the biggest Khan at the Bollywood box office.

In the middle of this spectacular fairy tale has come a grim reminder from the past that also includes a pending case of killing two black bucks in Rajasthan.

The Bandra metropolitan court today upheld an application made by the prosecution that wanted Salman to be tried for culpable homicide.

"The court has stated that there is enough evidence to include the charge of culpable homicide against Khan and hence has ordered him to be present before the court on February 11," said a lawyer from the team representing Salman.

Since the punishment under the charge is graver, the trial will shift to the sessions court from the magistrate's court, he said.

Salman's legal team, however, intends to appeal against the order before Bombay High Court. In 2003 too, after the magistrate court had upheld the framing of the charge against Salman, the high court had struck it down. The actor's counsel had contended that the charge was added by police later because of a public outcry.

The prosecution had appealed before the Supreme Court that said the trial court could decide during the course of the trial if the charge needed to be altered.

In 2011, the prosecution had made the application before the lower court, stating that there was enough evidence to charge the actor under Section 304(II), which has a maximum punishment of 10 years, instead of Section 304(A) for rash and negligent driving. Under culpable homicide, it is presumed that the accused had prior knowledge that a particular action could cause death and is invoked in drink-driving cases.

Convictions under Section 304(II) do not always bring the maximum punishment of 10 years. Other accused convicted under the same charge include Alistair Pereira, sentenced to three years for mowing down seven people in 2006, and NRI beautician Nooriya Haveliwala, who was handed a five-year prison term for running over two persons in 2010.

The big test before the prosecution will be its ability to prove that Salman was drunk while driving a Land Cruiser that rammed into a pavement outside a bakery near his house on September 28, 2002.

Along with the prosecution's application in 2011, another application filed by activist Santosh Daundkar had alleged that the trial was being delayed deliberately by the police to help Salman.

The magistrate court has ordered an inquiry into the allegations based on the complaint.

"The court has ordered an inquiry into our application which states that there is a deliberate delay in the trial in favour of Khan. The court has ordered that a report be submitted by March 5," said Abha Singh, representing Daundkar.

Singh has alleged that the court has issued summons to 39 witnesses but the police did not serve the notices to 24 of them. Her complaint added that since the trial began seven years ago, only 16 out of the 47 witnesses had been examined.

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