Bollywood superstar Salman Khan was on Wednesday sentenced to five years rigorous imprisonment by a Mumbai sessions court, which convicted him of culpable homicide not amounting to murder in the 2002 hit-and-run case.
Amidst considerable media presence, Judge D W Deshpande, who held the 49-year-old actor guilty of "all charges", including driving under influence of liquor and not possessing a driving licence, pronounced the sentence after a 45-minute adjournment of the proceedings.
Media reports that had earlier said that Salman had also broken down when the judge pronounced him guilty were untrue.
Salman looked dejected but stoic, and did not break down. Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ Rediff.com refute media reports that Salman Khan wept as Judge Deshpande handed out his sentence.
Not once did Salman or his family break down in the courtroom.
Salman had no expression on his face, no tears, head was tilted down when Judge DW Deshpande announced the 5-year jail term.
The actor looked calm and composed as the judgment was read out to him in the presence of his close family members.
A big crowd, mostly of Salman's fans, thronged around the court located in Fort area of south Mumbai.
Salman told Judge Deshpande that he respects the judgment and sat down in the witness box. The bail hearing will be held in the high court, not the sessions court where the sentencing took place.
The superstar's brothers Arbaaz and Sohail and sister Arpita were present in the court on the judgement day, which came after a long drawn legal process.
Dressed in a white shirt and blue jeans, the actor arrived in the jam-packed courtroom minutes before the proceedings began in the morning.
Sessions court judge D W Deshpande ruled "all charges" against the actor have been proved, including the stringent charge of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, besides various other offences, including rash and negligent driving and driving under influence of liquor.
The judge held that the actor also did not have a driving licence. The prosecution had alleged that Khan was driving without holding a licence and, to buttress its charge, produced RTO records to show that the actor had procured a licence only in 2004, two years after the tragedy.
The court, while pronouncing the judgment, drew parallels with the Alistair Pereira and Sanjeev Nanda BMW cases.
Asked if he had to say anything about the verdict, Salman denied the charge that he was driving the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Salman had earlier been tried for the lesser offence of causing death by rash and negligent driving which attracts a lighter punishment of imprisonment upto two years.
After examining several witnesses, a Bandra Metropolitan Magistrate had called off the trial midway in 2012 and slapped the serious charge of culpable homicide against the actor before committing the matter to the sessions court.
The court, while convicting the hugely popular actor, upheld the prosecution's contention that he was at the wheel when his Toyota Land Cruiser ran over five people sleeping on the pavement outside American Express bakery in suburban Bandra, killing one person and wounding four.
Nurullah Mehboob Sharif was killed in the accident in which Kalim Mohammed Pathan, Munna Malai Khan, Abdullah Rauf Shaikh and Muslim Shaikh had been injured.
Judge Deshpande rejected the defence's claim that the actor's driver Ashok Singh was behind the wheels on September 28, 2002 when the accident occurred.
Adding a fresh twist to the trial, Singh had declared it was he who was driving the vehicle on the fateful night and not the actor, a claim the court rejected.
It also dismissed Salman's claim that he had consumed only water and not alcohol at the Rain Bar and J W Marriott Hotel, while relying on the actor's police bodyguard Ravindra Patil's statement to the police after the accident that he had warned him against driving rashly after ingesting liquor.
Patil died during the pendency of the trial and the defence had insisted that his evidence should not be considered during the fresh trial as it had not got the opportunity to cross examine him. The defence called Ravindra Patil a "liar" and claimed he was asleep in the vehicle when the accident occurred.
The court had, however, taken Patil's statement on record and appears to have relied on it before delivering the judgment.
The defence also disputed the prosecution's contention that there were only three persons in the vehicle--Khan, his police bodyguard Ravindra Patil and singer friend Kamaal Khan, insisting that driver Ashok Singh was also present.
In his statement to the police, Patil had made no reference to Singh's claimed presence in the vehicle.
Questioning Singh's claim, the prosecution wanted to know why it took him over 12 years to admit to the guilt.
The prosecution, on the basis of the statements of eyewitnesses and some of the victims, claimed the fact that the actor came out of the right door of the smashed vehicle proved he was at the wheel when the accident occurred.
Salman's counsel Srikant Shivade argued that the post-mortem report of the deceased indicated he had died after being crushed.
Shivade contended that he got killed when a crane called by the police to lift Khan's SUV could not haul it up in one go and dropped it on the victims.
Meanwhile, one of the injured Kalim Mohammad Pathan, who had shifted to his village in Uttar Pradesh after the tragedy, said he was more concerned about award of compensation to the victims than the quantum of punishment to the actor.
"Our stomach cannot be filled if he (Salman) gets bigger punishment. We want adequate compensation as we hardly have anything to do in our village," he told a TV channel.
Another survivor of the accident, Abdullah Rauf Shaikh, said," We are poor. If we get some compensation, it will be good for us."
The wife of one of the victims said, "We are living in trouble and poverty. If we get a job, we will be happy and we can lead a better life."
Reacting to the judgment, eminent lawyer KTS Tulsi said Salman ran the risk of attracting "highest" sentence for the offence.
"This is a deadly combination, driving under the influence of liquor and then running over human beings and having no concern for human lives.... and running away from the spot and then cooking up a false story.
Former Maharashtra police chief Arvind Inamdar said, "However high you may be, the law is the same. Today, in fact, the law has won. In my opinion, police officials have done a magnificent job."
Photograph: PTI Photo