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30 years after road-rage incident, Sidhu let off with a Rs 1,000 fine

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Reversing the High Court ruling, the apex court acquitted him of the serious charge of culpable homicide in the 1988 case.

New Delhi: In a major respite for Punjab minister and former Indian cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, the Supreme Court Tuesday let him off with a meager fine of Rs 1,000 instead of a three-year jail term for beating a man to death.

In doing so, the apex court set aside the Punjab and Haryana High Court’s verdict in the 1988 road rage case.

Reversing the high court’s ruling, the apex court acquitted him of a serious charge of culpable homicide (killing of a man that does not amount to murder) but found him guilty of a much lesser charge.

Sidhu now has to only pay a fine of Rs 1,000 for voluntarily causing hurt under the Indian Penal Code.

Initially, the high court had fined Sidhu Rs 1 lakh.

A bench comprising justices J. Chelameswar and Sanjay Kishan Kaul of the apex court was hearing cross-appeals filed by Sidhu, the state of Punjab and the victim’s family.

Facts of the case

The prosecution had argued that Sidhu and co-convict Rupinder Singh Sandhu were allegedly present in a Maruti Gypsy parked near Sheranwala Gate crossing in Patiala on 27 December 1988, while the victim, Gurnam Singh, was on his way to a bank in a Maruti car with two others.

As Gurnam asked the Gypsy occupants to give them the way, the two beat him up before fleeing. Gurnam was declared dead after he was rushed to a hospital.

Sidhu and Sandhu were initially tried for murder, but the trial court in September 1999 acquitted the cricketer-turned-politician. However, the HC reversed the verdict and held them guilty of culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Political ramifications

The case has been a big flashpoint in Sidhu’s political career. Had the court held Sidhu guilty of the bigger offence, it would have potentially ended his political career. As per the law, an MP, MLA or an MLC immediately loses his seat on conviction and is barred from contesting elections for six years, after the end of the sentence.

Last month, the Congress-led Punjab government, in which he is a cabinet minister, told the Supreme Court that Sidhu’s involvement in the crime cannot be denied, raising doubts about his relevance within the party.

The trial court’s verdict was unreasonable and was rightly reversed by the (Punjab and Haryana) High Court, which convicted the accused,” Sangram Singh Saron, the government counsel had argued.

In 2007, the apex court had granted bail to Sidhu and stayed his conviction, enabling him to contest the Amritsar by-election, the same seat he had to vacate after being convicted by the trial court.

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