The Rajasthan High Court in Jodhpur pronounced its verdict in the 1998 black buck and chinkara poaching cases, and acquitted actor Salman Khan on Monday. Khan and several others were accused of killing a black buck and chinkara in two separate incidents.
One of the animals was killed at Bhawad on the outskirts of Jodhpur on 26 September, 1998, and the other at Ghoda Farms on 28 September, 1998.
A police complaint was filed by the Bishnoi community on the midnight of 28 September, 1998, within the limits of Mathania village.
At that time, Khan and the others were shooting for the film Hum Saath-Saath Hain. Khan went to jail for three days in 1998 and six days in 2007.
A Jodhpur court framed charges against four actors — Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam — in December 2013, reported The Telegraph.
Salman, along with these four actors, had been charged for the violation of Section 51 of the Wildlife Protection Act. The Act states that anyone hunting (capturing, killing, poisoning, snaring or trapping) any wild animal or trying to do so may be sent to jail for three years.
Apart from this, all the five accused were also charged under Section 52 of the wildlife act (abetment of hunting) as well as Section 149 of the Indian Penal Code dealing with unlawful assembly.
The actors denied the charges read out to them by the judge. The charges were revised in 2012 by the high court. Khan, who was initially charged with the Wildlife Act, the Arms Act and the IPC, was later discharged from the Arms Act and the IPC.
All the accused had appeared in the court on 19 June, 2006, but revision petitions first by the defence and then by the state government had held up the trial. The Rajasthan government sought the addition of the charge of rioting (Section 156 and 147 of the IPC) against the five accused. The court had rejected the petitions. The trial resumed on 25 May, 2013 after a hiatus of seven years.
In 2013, the Rajasthan high Court stayed his sentence, allowing him to apply for a United Kingdom visa. The Rajasthan government moved the apex court against the high court’s decision.
The hearing in high court begun on 16 November, 2015 and was completed on 13 May, 2016. While arguing the case in the high court, defence counsel Mahesh Bora had contended that Khan had been falsely framed in these cases, merely on the statements of a key witness Harish Dulani, the driver of the vehicle, which was allegedly used in poaching in both these cases.
Bora argued that Dulani was never available to them for cross examination and hence his statements could not be relied upon in the conviction of Khan. He also argued that both of these cases have been built on circumstantial evidences and there was no eye-witness or any material evidence against Khan.
Defence also strongly argued that these pellets had been planted since they were not found in the vehicle during forest department’s inspection and were found there surprisingly by the police later.
With inputs from agencies.