A Jodhpur court on Thursday sentenced Salman Khan to a five-year jail term, and a penalty of Rs 10,000 in the 1998 blackbuck killing case. His ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ co-stars, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendre, Neelam, who were co-accused, were earlier, acquitted in the same case. A fifth person, Dushyant Singh, a local businessman from the area, has also been acquitted.
The actor had four cases against him, related to the poaching incident. Today’s case was the last of the lot.
Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri, while pronouncing the verdict in the case that had been under way for 20 years, called the actor a ‘habitual offender’. Judge Khatri ruled that hence the actor has been convicted, while the others have been given the benefit of the doubt.
The actor has been charged under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act. The other actors were charged under Section 51 read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code.
Meanwhile, the Bishnoi community has expressed displeasure at the other actors being allowed to go scot-free. The community feels reverentially towards blackbucks and has been working to protect the creatures.
Reacting to the verdict, actress Neelam’s husband, Samir Soni said that it was surprising that one person had been singled out. “I’m happy for Neelam and the rest of us, but very disappointed for Salman,” he said, while expressing support for the actor.
Salman, 52, arrived from Mumbai in a chartered flight. He was earlier in Abu Dhabi for the shooting of Race 3.Bendre, Saif Ali Khan, Tabu and Neelam also reached Jodhpur from Mumbai.
Salman was accused of killing the blackbucks in Bhagoda ki Dhani in Kankani village near Jodhpur in October 1998, during the shooting of Hum Saath Saath Hain.
“All of them were in a Gypsy car that night, with Salman Khan in the driving seat. He, on spotting a herd of blackbucks, shot at and killed two of them,” Public Prosecutor Bhawani Singh Bhati had said.
“But on being spotted and chased, they fled from the spot leaving the dead animals there,” he said, adding that there was adequate evidence against them.
Denying these allegations, Salman’s counsel H M Saraswat said there were several loopholes in the prosecution’s story and it had failed to prove its case beyond any doubt.
“Prosecution has failed to prove the allegations. It engaged in tampering and fabricating evidence and documents as well as roping in fake witnesses to prove its case,” he said.
“It even failed to prove that the blackbucks were killed by gunshots. Hence, such investigation cannot be trusted,” Saraswat said.
The case also involved two more accused, Dushyant Singh, who was allegedly accompanying the actors when the poaching took place, and Dinesh Gawre, said to be Salman’s assistant.
However, prosecutor Bhati says that Gawre never appeared in court and was made to disappear by Salman. Had he been around, there could have been more information available in the case, he says.
Final arguments of the case were completed in the trial court on March 28
Judge: Why did you come to Jodhpur in 1998.
Salman Khan: To shoot…
Judge: You have confessed. GUILTY.
Salman Khan: … Hum Saath Saath Hain.
Judge: You have confessed again. ALL OF YOU ARE GUILTY.#BlackBuckPoachingCase
— Ramesh Srivats (@rameshsrivats) April 5, 2018
.@suhelseth, Consultant: We have to get our judicial system to be either swift or compassionate or both. #SalmanKhanConvicted pic.twitter.com/rUsJwnOPGv
— Mirror Now (@MirrorNow) April 5, 2018