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Supreme Court issues notice to Punjab Congress chief Navjot Sidhu in road rage case

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The Supreme Court on Friday issued notice to president of Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee Navjot Singh Sidhu in the 33-year-old road rage case.

A Bench comprising Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul sought Sidhu’s response over a review petition filed on the sentence given to him in the case.

Senior Advocate Siddharth Luthra, appearing on behalf of the petitioner, said that the injury was not minor, but serious. The injury was so severe that it cost the life of the 65-year-old, who was injured by Sidhu in 1988, he added.

P. Chidambaram, representing Sidhu, argued that the initial application from the petitioner was only about the quantum of sentence and not nature of offence. Sidhu’s lawyer opposed the nature of offence also being questioned after so many years had passed since the incident.

P Chidambaram- whether the judgement in Brijpal Singh Meena will apply to this case and whether it can be concluded that it is 323, is it correct or not. All the facts that have already been found by your lordship can the conclusion be different than 323.

Justice Khanwilkar- There is something more that he is asking in his application. He is saying that the nature of offence will not be 323. It is something different. The basis on which the findings have been reached is incorrect.

P Chidambaram- that will mean reopening the entire judgement.

Justice Khanwilkar- the nature of offence and sentence will be opened.

Justice Kaul- we had issued a limited notice , you are asking us to enlarge it. You have argued on the contention that the aid of the judgement you say on the facts on record, this conclusion won’t have been arrived at. This is the only argument.
Sidharth luthra- all I am saying is that on the available material this finding of section 323 of IPC cannot be arrived at.

Justice Kaul- what you have urged before us is that the findings arrived at by this court, you feel that this is not the case for holding it offence under 323. So we are not disturbing the factual findings that we have arrived at. That factual finding, whether an offence has been made under 323 or under any other provision.

Luthra- one more thing that I have mentioned in my application, attribution of cardiac arrest is not available in the evidence.

Justice Kaul- you can’t keep expanding the argument on this. We would like Chidambaram’s assistance to determine this issue.

Luthra- at one place this judgement records that the death is due to cardiac arrest . I am submitting that there is a finding that a blow is caused. And death due to cardiac arrest is not a correct finding.

Justice Kaul- then why should you not argue that he is entitled to acquittal?  You want us to re-appreciate the evidence.

Justice Khanwilkar- let Mr. Chidambaram file his response then we will consider. Whether the application needs to be entertained is the first question we need to consider.

Chidambaram- even if your lordships entertain the application, my learned friend started by saying that on the facts you could not have reached the conclusion of 323. But now he is asking for a re-hearing.

The Bench granted two weeks’ time to file response to the application filed by Luthra.

In the intervention petition against Sidhu, it has been requested that the Punjab MLA be punished under Section 304 of IPC. Apart from this, the petitioner, citing the post-mortem report, also said that the possibility of death has been expressed due to serious head injury.

Since the post-mortem report clearly states that the death was not due to heart attack. Therefore, Sidhu should be punished under 304. The petitioner said that it was wrong to apply only the section of assault in the incident in which someone died.

Earlier in 2018, Sidhu was held guilty under Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code (voluntary hurt) that entails a maximum jail term of one year or with a fine up to Rs 1,000 or both.

The bench had in September, 2018, issued notice to Sidhu on the limited question of revisiting the quantum of punishment awarded to him by the Apex Court in its May 2018 decision that held him guilty for causing hurt and directed payment of fine of Rs 1,000.

The review petitions have been filed by the family members of 65-year-old Gurnam Singh, who died in the road rage incident involving Sidhu and his friend .

In an affidavit in response to a court notice issued in September 2018, Sidhu had said that his impeccable political and sporting career should be considered. Sidhu claimed that he has worked for the welfare of people at large as a Parliamentarian.

It was submitted that in the present case, after due appreciation of the material on record and considering the relevant factors such as time elapsed from the date of incident, antecedents of Respondent – Accused (Sidhu), no recovery of weapon from him, no past enmity, a sentence of maximum fine permissible for Section 323 has already been imposed. 

Whether this aspect, the discretion exercised by the Supreme Court in imposing a sentence of fine is correct or not, cannot be a ground to review the decision. It is settled law that my possibility of alternative view on the sentence imposed is not a ground for entertaining a review.  

Further, the affidavit stated that more than three decades have passed since the date of the incident. 

The Top Court in numerous cases considered a fine as an adequate punishment, if there has been a long passage of time from the date of offence. The respondent faced trial between 1994 and 1999 and abided by all the directions of the trial court and was eventually acquitted. Against the order of acquittal, an appeal was preferred by the state and the complainant, which means the petitioner, whereupon the High Court of Punjab and Haryana had set aside the order of acquittal.  

“.. the answering respondent (Sidhu) herein, through various philanthropic gestures, has made contributions towards social welfare by helping those in need of immediate financial assistance and by contributing to the development of environmental projects. The above stated indisputable facts exhibit that the answering respondent has been a law-abiding citizen and ought not be punished any further,” the affidavit said.

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