Or will the pussillanimous (or corrupt) judges succumb?
The gravest charge Khan earlier faced was causing death by negligence under Section 304-A of the IPC. He will now be tried under the more serious Section 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), which attracts a maximum punishment of 10 years. Section 304-A attracts a maximum term of just two years.
Khan’s lawyer Dipesh Mehta told TOI, “Earlier 304-A was applied in the same matter. There is no change in circumstances and the evidence is still not complete. We will challenge the decision in the high court.” Kaushal Thakkar, another of Khan’s lawyers, said that the court had stated that there was enough evidence to show that the act was not incidental and hence the case should be tried under a more serious section.
Khan will now have to appear before the sessions court on February 11. The actor has also been booked under IPC sections 279 (rash driving), 337 (causing minor injuries), 338 (causing major injuries) and 427 (negligence). He also faces charges under the Motor Vehicles Act and other laws.
The latest order passed by additional chief metropolitan magistrate Vasant Patil, comes after the prosecution moved an application before the magistrate’s court in March 2011 seeking enhancement of the charges.
The case dates back to September 28, 2002, when Khan was allegedly drunk when he rammed his Land Cruiser into the American Express Bakery on Hill Road, Bandra, in the early hours of the morning. The five victims were sleeping on the footpath outside the shop. Khan surrendered only eight hours after the incident.
The case was filed according to the statement given by his police bodyguard, Ravindra Patil, who first claimed that Khan had driven rashly. Patil later amended his statement to say that Khan had been under the influence of alcohol. The police built their case on the basis of this statement.
The police first filed charges under Section 304-A, but this was changed to Section 304-II (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) after Patil gave his second statement. The case was committed to the sessions court, which framed charges. However, Khan moved the high court and got the sessions court’s order quashed. The case was sent back to the magistrate’s court for a trial under the lesser Section 304-A (causing death by negligence). The state then moved the apex court, which said that anytime the magistrate felt that Khan should face a graver charge, the trial court could move the case to a higher court. The prosecution later filed an application in the Bandra magistrate’s court for 304-II to be applied.
The trial began in 2006 and till January 25, 2011, 17 witnesses had been examined. These included doctors, the injured, eyewitnesses and a vehicle inspector. “After the application for enhancement of charges was filed, no witnesses have been examined,” said B B Yele, a former public prosecutor in the case.
In recent months, the case was embroiled in controversy after a social worker, Santosh Daundakar, filed an application saying that due to the submission of false evidence by the police, the case has been delayed by almost four to five years. In the application filed through former director of postal services, advocate Abha Singh, Daundkar prayed that the court should take notice of the offences. He asked for a preliminary enquiry to be conducted and the guilty to be brought to book. In its reply filed on Wednesday, the police denied the allegations that they had deliberately produced false witnesses before the court .This matter has now been adjourned to March 5 for further inquiry.
The Khan family was unavailable for comment.