1988 Road rage case: SC reserves verdict on Navjot Singh Sidhu’s appeal

New Delhi: Cricketer-turned-politician Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was awarded three-year jail term by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a 1988 road rage case, today told the Supreme Court that the evidence about the cause of death of the victim was “contradictory” and the medical opinion ” vague”.

Sidhu, who had quit the BJP and joined the Congress days before the Punjab assembly election last year, told a bench of Justices J Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul that the “most baffling issue” in the case was with regard to the cause of death of the victim, Gurnam Singh.

The apex court, after hearing the submissions, reserved its verdict on the appeals filed by Sidhu, currently the Tourism Minister of Punjab, and Rupinder Singh Sandhu who was also convicted and sentenced to three-year jail by the high court in the case.

According to the prosecution, Sidhu and Sandhu were allegedly in a Gypsy parked on 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.

It was alleged that when they had reached the crossing, 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.

The police had claimed that Singh was beaten up by Sidhu who later fled the crime scene. The victim was taken to a hospital where he was declared dead.

During the arguments today, senior advocate R S Cheema, representing Sidhu, questioned the evidence brought on record regarding the cause of death of the victim.

“The most baffling and disturbing issue in the case is what we have on record with regard to the cause of death. The evidence brought on record was obscure, indefinite and also contradictory,” he said.

Cheema also argued that the medical opinion was “vague” and contradictions were writ large on it.

When he referred to the statements of prosecution witnesses who had deposed regarding alleged fist blows given by Sidhu to the victim, the bench observed, ” there is already a loss of life”.

The senior counsel, while wrapping up his arguments, also referred to the provisions of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) dealing with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

The bench, while reserving the verdict, asked the parties to file their written notes as soon as possible.

Sidhu had yesterday told the apex court that the findings of the high court were based on “opinion” and not on medical evidence.

Ironically, on April 12, the Amarinder Singh-led Congress government had favoured in the top court the high court’s judgment convicting and awarding of the three-year jail term to Sidhu.

Earlier, the counsel for the state had told the apex court that “the trial court verdict was rightly set aside by the High Court. Accused A1 (Navjot Singh Sidhu) had given fist blow to deceased Gurnam Singh leading to his death through brain hemorrhage.”

The state had argued that the trial court was wrong in its finding that the man had died of cardiac arrest and not brain hemorrhage.

The counsel for the complainant had argued that Sidhu’s sentence should be enhanced as it was a case of murder and the cricketer-turned-politician had deliberately removed the keys of deceased’s car so that he does not get medical assistance.

Sidhu was acquitted of the murder charges by the trial court in September 1999.

However, the high court had reversed the verdict and held Sidhu and Sandhu guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in December 2006. It had sentenced them to three-year jail and imposed a fine of Rs one lakh each on the convicts.

In 2007, the apex court had stayed the conviction of Sidhu and Sandhu in the case, paving the way for him to contest the by-poll for the Amritsar Lok Sabha seat.