Jodhpur: A Jodhpur court has sentenced actor Salman Khan to five years in jail after finding him guilty of killing the endangered blackbuck during an impromptu hunting trip in October, 1998 in Rajasthan.
The incident took place 20 years ago when the actor was shooting the film Hum Saath Saath Hain. His co-stars and co-accused Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Neelam and Sonali Bendra, who had accompanied the actor that night, were acquitted by the court.
Salman Khan was taken to the Jodhpur Central Jail after the verdict. His next step would be to appeal for bail against the sentence.
April 5 was verdict day for the poaching case and the court pronounced Salman Khan guilty soon after it opened at 11 am. The actor’s sisters, Alvira and Arpita, were present in court.
There was tight security in and around the court with emergency response teams and women commandos deployed.
Final arguments of the case were completed in the trial court on March 28, after which Chief Judicial Magistrate Dev Kumar Khatri had reserved the judgment for Thursday, April 5.
Salman Khan was accused of killing two blackbucks in Bhagoda ki Dhani in Kankani village near Jodhpur on the intervening night of October 1-2, 1998, during the shooting of Hum Saath Saath Hain. He faced charges under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act and the other actors were charged under Section 51 read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code. Maximum punishment under Section 51 is six years.
The killing took place near a village of Bishnois who are passionate about protecting the animals. On hearing the gunshots, the villagers came out running and some were among the 28 witnesses whose evidence against the actor was crucial in the conviction.
The Bishnois chased the actor’s car, a Gypsy, on their bikes after finding the carcass of the dead animals at the spot.
“All of them were in a Gypsy car that night, with Salman Khan in the driving seat. He, on spotting a herd of black bucks, shot at and killed two of them,” Public Prosecutor Bhawani Singh Bhati had told court.
“But on being spotted and chased, they fled leaving the dead animals there,” he had argued, adding there was adequate evidence against the actors.
Denying these allegations, Salman Khan’s counsel H M Saraswat had said there were several loopholes in the prosecution’s story and that it had tampered and fabricated evidence and also roped in fake witnesses.
“It even failed to prove that the blackbucks were killed by gunshots. Hence, such investigation cannot be trusted,” Saraswat had 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 Khan’s assistant.
However, prosecutor Bhati says that Gawre never appeared in court and was made to disappear by Salman Khan. Had he been around, there could have been more information available in the case, he said.
In the last 20 years, Salman Khan’s counsel has argued that the actor was not armed or that he was carrying an air rifle which can not kill. It was also submitted in court that the animals might have died of overeating or that stray dogs killed them. Salman had also said in an interview that the deer were caught in a bush and that he had actually saved them.
The blackbuck is an endangered species, protected under the Indian Wildlife Act.
(With PTI inputs)