Salman Khan convicted in blackbuck poaching case: Here's why Saif Ali Khan, Tabu, Sonali Bendra, Neelam were let off

FP Staff

April 06, 2018 07:09:02 IST

A Jodhpur court on Thursday convicted actor Salman Khan in the almost two-decade-old blackbuck poaching case. The court, however, acquitted actors Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Neelam and Tabu.

Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam/Image from Twitter.Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Tabu and Neelam/Image from Twitter.

The case started in 1998 when Salman Khan was accused of hunting the endangered blackbuck in Kankani village near Jodhpur during the shooting of film Hum Sath-Sath Hai. His co-actors were also named in the case as they were in the vehicle Salman Khan allegedly used while hunting the animal. Both black bucks and chinkaras fall under the endangered species category, and killing them is a punishable offence in India.

Why have the co-accused Saif Ali Khan, Neelam, Tabu and Sonali Bendre been acquitted?

In the blackbuck poaching case, which has taken almost 20 years to come to a seeming conclusion, Salman was charged under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act while the other actors were charged under Section 51 of the Wildlife (Protection) Act read with Section 149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code.

The reason behind the acquittal of the other stars may be because of the difficulty in furnishing any evidence linking Saif Ali Khan, Sonali Bendre, Neelam and Tabu to the killing of the black bucks. Apart from Salman Khan, who was booked for killing an endangered species, the rest were charged with unlawful assembly.

Their intention of killing black bucks could not have been established in the court of law. Salman Khan, being the man who was accused of pulling the trigger, was in a more precarious position than any of his Hum Sath-Sath Hai co-stars who could just claim of being present in the situation without knowing what was happening. Establishing a pre-planned motive by all the five actors is where the prosecution seems to have fallen short.

The acquitted four stars' counsel would have argued in favour of the right to form assembly or association. While 'unlawful assembly' denotes the congregation of three or more people with the intention to disturb the law and order, the intention needs to be proven in the court for the judge to pronounce them guilty.

Though freedom to assembly or form an association/group is a fundamental right, its exception is that the purpose of forming such an association cannot be to disturb the law and order situation of the country. Thus, if the mala fide intentions are not proven in court, the accused are likely to get the benefit of doubt.

Why were the odds against Salman Khan?

There were four separate cases registered against Salman Khan. On 27 September, 1998, Salman allegedly hunted a Chinkara on the border of Bhawad village in the outskirts of Jodhpur. The folowing day, on 28 September, 1998, Salman Khan allegedly hunted two Chinkaras near Ghoda Farm area in Osian region of Jodhpur. Later, on 2 October, 1998, Salman Khan hunted two blackbucks and his co-stars; Tabu, Sonali Bendre, Neelam and Saif Ali Khan, were subsequently named co-accused in the case.

The fourth case against Salman was under the Arms Act. A .32 revolver and .22 rifle was recovered from Salman’s hotel room after the poaching cases were registered. The weapons were seized on 15 October, 1998 while Salman’s arm license had already expired on 22 September, 1998.

On 25 July, 2017, judge Nirmaljeet Kaur discharged Salman Khan in both Bhawad Chinkara and Ghoda Farm poaching cases. Salman was also acquitted in the Arms Act case in January 2017 but the decision has been appealed against by the Rajasthan government in the District Judge Court.

While Salman was first convicted in the black buck case back in 2006 with a prison sentence of five years, the sentence was later suspended on 31 August of the same year. Ten years later, on 25 July 2016, he was acquitted by Rajasthan High Court of all charges. This decision of the Rajasthan High Court was challenged by the state's government, and Salman Khan was issued a notice by the Supreme Court that fast-tracked the state government's petition.

Salman Khan in Jodhpur/Image from Twitter.Salman Khan in Jodhpur/Image from Twitter.

Over the course of many years, the case has taken numerous turns. According to a report in Catch News, when Salman was first questioned about being seen by two people shooting the black buck, the actor outrightly denied the allegations and also said that the jeep he was using had no blood stains or hair of the blackbuck, as claimed by the investigating team. Salman Khan and his co-stars denied going for the shooting at night as claimed by eyewitnesses. The forensic report that Salman cited was challenged by the forest department itself and an FIR was lodged against Dr Nepalia (doctor who filed the first forensic report in the case) for diluting the case.

According to Catch News, Lalit Bora, former DFO with Rajasthan Forest Department, said that Dr Nepalia conducted the postmortem on 2 October 1998 and mentioned in his report that the black bucks died of natural causes. "He claimed that the animals had died of overeating and jumping. This was strange considering deer are known for their jumping prowess so we did not accept his report," Bora had told Catch News. Following this, the forest department constituted a board to conduct another postmortem which revealed that there were burn marks and bullet holes on the skin of the black buck.

Updated Date: Apr 06, 2018 08:44 AM