Salman faces culpable homicide charge for Bandra hit-and-run

More than 10 years after actor Salman Khan's Toyota Land Cruiser ran over pavement dwellers in Mumbai's Bandra suburb and killed one person, a magistrate court Thursday accepted the Maharashtra government's plea that Khan be tried for 'culpable homicide not amounting to murder' instead of 'causing death by negligence'.

The order is a major setback for Khan as causing death by negligence carries a prison sentence of not more than two years while the enhanced charge could attract a sentence of up to 10 years in jail if he is found guilty. Khan has been asked to appear before the sessions court on March 11.

"There is enough evidence to show that the act was not incidental, and hence the case should be tried under a more serious section," Khan's lawyer Kaushal Thakkar quoted Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vasant Patil's order as saying.

On September 28, 2002, Khan's vehicle had rammed into the American Express bakery in Bandra, killing Noorulla Mahboob Sharif and seriously injuring four people as they all slept on the pavement.

The court is believed to have relied heavily on the statement of Ravindra Patil, the complainant and former bodyguard of Khan, who was with the actor in the vehicle when the incident took place. Patil died of tuberculosis in 2007, but his statement that had been recorded by the trial court has helped the prosecution enhance the charges against Khan.

In his initial statement, Patil had not informed the police that Khan was allegedly drunk at the time of the incident. However, he revised his statement and claimed that he had warned the actor against drinking and driving and had advised him to drive safely.

Magistrate Patil's order was based on an application moved by the prosecution in March 2011 seeking enhancement of charges.

The case has gone through several ups and downs. Khan was initially booked for culpable homicide, but the section was altered after his lawyers moved the Bombay High Court. The prosecution had then approached the Supreme Court against the high court's order.

The Supreme Court had observed that if the magistrate, at any time during the trial, felt the case should be tried under a different section, the court could commit the case to a higher court.

The prosecution has managed to examine around 17 of the 40-odd witnesses listed. The case had stalled since the prosecution's application was filed. Besides the complainant, chemical analyst D K Bhalshankar had testified against Khan, claiming that he was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident.

Reached for comment, Khan's secretary Vikas Kapoor replied through a SMS which said he did not want to comment. Khan's lawyer said they would approach the high court.

"We will appeal this order in the Bombay High Court," Thakkar said.

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